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is ART? 





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WHAT thoughtful man has not been perplexed by problems 
relating to art ? 

An estimable and charming Russian lady I knew, felt 
the charm of the music and ritual of the services of the 
Russo-Greek Church so strongly that she wished the 
peasants, in whom she was interested, to retain their blind 
faith, though she herself disbelieved the church doctrines. 
" Their lives are so poor and bare they have so little art, 
so little poetry and colour in their lives let them at least 
enjoy what they have; it would be cruel to undeceive 
them," said she. 

A false and antiquated view of life is supported by means 
of art, and is inseparably linked to some manifestations of 
art which we enjoy and prize. If the false view of life be 
destroyed this art will cease to appear valuable. Is it best 
to screen the error for the sake of preserving the art? Or 
should the art be sacrificed for the sake of truthfulness ? 

Again and again in history a dominant church has 
utilised art to maintain its sway over men. Reformers 
(early Christians, Mohammedans, Puritans, and others) 
have perceived that art bound people to the old faith, and 
they were angry with art. They diligently chipped the noses 
from statues and images, and were wroth with ceremonies, 
decorations, stained-glass windows, and processions. They 
were even ready to banish art altogether, for, besides the 


superstitions it upheld, they saw that it depraved and per 
verted men by dramas, drinking-songs, novels, pictures, and 
dances, of a kind that awakened man s lower nature. Yet 
art always reasserted her sway, and to-day we are told by 
many that art has nothing to do with morality that "art 
should be followed for art s sake." 

I went one day, with a lady artist, to the Bodkin Art 
Gallery in Moscow. In one of the rooms, on a table, lay a 
book of coloured pictures, issued in Paris and supplied, I 
believe, to private subscribers only. The pictures were 
admirably executed, but represented scenes in the private 
cabinets of a restaurant. Sexual indulgence was the chief 
subject of each picture. Women extravagantly dressed and 
partly undressed, women exposing their legs and breasts to 
men in evening dress; men and women taking liberties 
with each other, or dancing the " can-can," etc., etc. My 
companion the artist, a maiden lady of irreproachable 
conduct and reputation, began deliberately to look at these 
pictures. I could not let my attention dwell on them with 
out ill effects. Such things had a certain attraction for me, 
and tended to make me restless and nervous. I ventured 
to suggest that the subject-matter of the pictures was 
objectionable. But my companion (who prided herself on 
being an artist) remarked with conscious superiority, that 
from an artist s point of view the subject was of no con 
sequence. The pictures being very well executed were 
artistic, and therefore worthy of attention and study. 
Morality had nothing to do with art. 

Here again is a problem. One remembers Plato s advice 
not to let our thoughts run upon women, for if we do we 
shall think clearly about nothing else, and one knows that 
to neglect this advice is to lose tranquillity of mind; but 
then one does not wish to be considered narrow, ascetic, or 
inartistic, nor to lose artistic pleasures which those around 
us esteem so highly. 


Again, the newspapers last year printed proposals to 
construct a Wagner Opera House, to cost, if I recollect 
rightly, ; 100,000 about as much as a hundred labourers 
may earn by fifteen or twenty years hard work. The 
writers thought it would be a good thing if such an Opera 
House were erected and endowed. But I had a talk lately 
with a man who, till his health failed him, had worked as a 
builder in London. He told me that when he was younger 
he had been very fond of theatre-going, but, later, when he 
thought things over and considered that in almost every 
number of his weekly paper he read of cases of people 
whose death was hastened by lack of good food, he felt it 
was not right that so much labour should be spent on 

In reply to this view it is urged that food for the mind is 
as important as food for the body. The labouring classes 
work to produce food and necessaries for themselves and 
for the cultured, while some of the cultured class produce 
plays and operas. It is a division of labour. But this 
again invites the rejoinder that, sure enough, the labourers 
produce food for themselves and also food that the cultured 
class accept and consume, but that the artists seem too 
often to produce their spiritual food for the cultured only 
at any rate that a singularly small share seems to reach 
the country labourers who work to supply the bodily 
food! Even were the "division of labour" shown to be 
a fair one, the " division of products " seems remarkably 

Once again: how is it that often when a new work is 
produced, neither the critics, the artists, the publishers, nor 
the public, seem to know whether it is valuable or worth 
less? Some of the most famous books in English litera 
ture could hardly find a publisher, or were savagely derided 
by leading critics; while other works once acclaimed as 
masterpieces are now laughed at or utterly forgotten. A 


play which nobody now reads was once passed off as a 
newly-discovered masterpiece of Shakespear s, and was 
produced at a leading London theatre. Are the critics 
playing blind-man s buff? Are they relying on each other? 
Is each following his own whim and fancy? Or do they 
possess a criterion which they never reveal to those outside 
the profession ? 

Such are a few of the many problems relating to art which 
present themselves to us all, and it is the purpose of this 
book to enable us to reach such a comprehension of art, 
and of the position art should occupy in our lives, as will 
enable us to answer such questions. 

The task is one of enormous difficulty. Under the cloak 
of "art," so much selfish amusement and self-indulgence 
tries to justify itself, and so many mercenary interests are 
concerned in preventing the light from shining in upon the 
subject, that the clamour raised by this book can only be 
compared to that raised by the silversmiths of Ephesus 
when they shouted, " Great is Diana of the Ephesians ! " 
for about the space of two hours. 

Elaborate theories blocked the path with subtle sophis 
tries or ponderous pseudo-erudition. Merely to master 
these, and expose them, was by itself a colossal labour, 
but necessary in order to clear the road for a statement of 
any fresh view. To have accomplished this work of exposure 
in a few chapters is a wonderful achievement. To have 
done it without making the book intolerably dry is more 
wonderful still. In Chapter III. (where a rapid summary of 
some sixty aesthetic writers is given) even Tolstoy s powers 
fail to make the subject interesting, except to the specialist, 
and he has to plead with his readers "not to be overcome 
by dulness, but to read these extracts through." 

Among the writers mentioned, English readers miss the 
names of John Ruskin and William Morris, especially as so 
much that Tolstoy says, is in accord with their views, 


Of Ruskin, Tolstoy has a very high opinion. I have 
heard him say, " I don t know why you English make 
such a fuss about Gladstone you have a much greater 
man in Ruskin." As a stylist, too, Tolstoy speaks of 
him with high commendation. Ruskin, however, though 
he has written on art with profound insight, and has 
said many things with which Tolstoy fully agrees, has, 
I think, nowhere so systematised and summarised his view 
that it can be readily quoted in the concise way which has 
enabled Tolstoy to indicate his points of essential agree 
ment with Home, Veron, and Kant. Even the attempt to 
summarise Kant s aesthetic philosophy in a dozen lines will 
hardly be of much service except to readers who have already 
some acquaintance with the subject. For those to whom the 
difference between "subjective" and "objective" percep 
tions is fresh, a dozen pages would be none too much. And 
to summarise Ruskin would be perhaps more difficult than 
to condense Kant. 

As to William Morris, we are reminded of his dictum that 
art is the workman s expression of joy in his work, by 
Tolstoy s "As soon as the author is not producing art for 
his own satisfaction, does not himself feel what he wishes 
to express, a resistance immediately springs up" (p. 154); 
and again, " In such transmission to others of the feelings 
that have arisen in him, he (the artist) will find his happi 
ness" (p. 195). Tolstoy sweeps over a far wider range of 
thought, but he and Morris are not opposed. Morris was 
emphasising part of what Tolstoy is implying. 

But to return to the difficulties of Tolstoy s task. There 
is one, not yet mentioned, lurking in the hearts of most of 
us. We have enjoyed works of "art." We have been 
interested by the information conveyed in a novel, or we 
have been thrilled by an unexpected "effect"; have 
admired the exactitude with which real life has been 

reproduced, or have had our feelings touched by allusions 


to, or reproductions of, works old German legends, Greek 
myths, or Hebrew poetry which moved us long ago, as 
they moved generations before us. And we thought all this 
was "art." Not clearly understanding what art is, and 
wherein its importance lies, we were not only attached to 
these things, but attributed importance to them, calling 
them "artistic" and "beautiful," without well knowing 
what we meant by those words. 

But here is a book that obliges us to clear our minds. 
It challenges us to define "art" and "beauty," and to say 
why we consider these things, that pleased us, to be specially 
important. And as to beauty, we find that the definition 
given by aesthetic writers amounts merely to this, that 
"Beauty is a kind of pleasure received by us, not having 
personal advantage for its object." But it follows from this, 
that " beauty " is a matter of taste, differing among different 
people, and to attach special importance to what pleases 
me (and others who have had the same sort of training 
that I have had) is merely to repeat the old, old mistake 
which so divides human society; it is like declaring that my 
race is the best race, my nation the best nation, my 
church the best church, and my family the " best " family. 
It indicates ignorance and selfishness. 

But "truth angers those whom it does not convince;" 
people do not wish to understand these things. It seems, 
at first, as though Tolstoy were obliging us to sacrifice some 
thing valuable. We do not realise that we are being helped 
to select the best art, but we do feel that we are being 
deprived of our sense of satisfaction in Rudyard Kipling. 

Both the magnitude and the difficulty of the task were 
therefore very great, but they have been surmounted in a 
marvellous manner. Of the effect this book has had on me 
personally, I can only say that "whereas I was blind, now I 
see." Though sensitive to some forms of art, I was, when 
I took it up, much in the dark on questions of aesthetic 


philosophy; when I had done with it, I had grasped the 
main solution of the problem so clearly that though I 
waded through nearly all that the critics and reviewers had 
to say about the book I never again became perplexed 
upon the central issues. 

Tolstoy was indeed peculiarly qualified for the task he 
has accomplished. It was after many years of work as a 
writer of fiction, and when he was already standing in the 
very foremost rank of European novelists, that he found 
himself compelled to face, in deadly earnest, the deepest 
problems of human life. He not only could not go on 
writing books, but he felt he could not live, unless he 
found clear guidance, so that he might walk sure-footedly 
and know the purpose and meaning of his life. Not as a 
mere question of speculative curiosity, but as a matter of 
vital necessity, he devoted years to re-discover the truths 
which underlie all religion. 

To fit him for this task he possessed great knowledge of 
men and books, a wide experience of life, a knowledge of 
languages, and a freedom from bondage to any authority 
but that of reason and conscience. He was pinned to 
no Thirty-nine Articles, and was in receipt of no retaining 
fee which he was not prepared to sacrifice. Another gift, 
rare among men of his position, was his wonderful sincerity 
and (due, I think, to that sincerity) an amazing power of 
looking at the phenomena of our complex and artificial life 
with the eyes of a little child; going straight to the real, 
obvious facts of the case, and brushing aside the sophistries, 
the conventionalities, and the "authorities" by which they 
are obscured. 

He commenced the task when he was about fifty years 
of age, and since then (i.e., during the last twenty years) he 
has produced nine philosophical or scientific works of first- 
rate importance, besides a great many stories and short 


These works, in chronological order, are 
My Confession. 
A Criticism of Dogmatic Theology, which has never 

been translated. 

The Four Gospels Harmonised and Translated, of 
which only two parts, out of three, have as yet 
appeared in English. 

What I Believe, sometimes called My Religion. 
The Gospel in Brief. 
What are we to do then? sometimes called in English 

What to do? 
On Life, which is not an easy work in the original, 

and has not been satisfactorily translated. 1 
The Kingdom of God is within you; and 
The Christian Teaching, which appeared after What 

is Art ? though it was written before it. 
To these scientific works I am inclined to add The 
Kteutzer Sonata, with the Sequel or Postscript explaining 
its purpose ; for though The Kreutzer Sonata is a story, 
the understanding of sexual problems, dealt with explicitly 
in the Sequel, is an integral part of that comprehension 
of life which causes Tolstoy to admire Christ, Buddha, or 
Francis of Assisi. 

These ten works treat of the meaning of our life ; of the 
problems raised by the fact that we approve of some things 
and disapprove of others, and find ourselves deciding 
which of two courses to pursue. 

Religion, Government, Property, Sex, War, and all the 
relations in which man stands to man, to his own con 
sciousness, and to the ultimate source (which we call 
God) from whence that consciousness proceeds are ex 
amined with the utmost frankness. 

1 Bolton Hall has recently published a little work, Life, and Love, 
and Death, with the object of making the philosophy contained in On 
Life more easily accessible in English. 


And all this time the problems of Art: What is Art? 
What importance is due to it ? How is it related to the 
rest of life ? were working in his mind. He was a 
great artist, often upbraided for having abandoned his 
art. He, of all men, was bound to clear his thoughts on 
this perplexing subject, and to express them. His whole 
philosophy of life the "religious perception" to which, 
with such tremendous labour and effort, he had attained, 
forbade him to detach art from life, and place it in a water 
tight compartment where it should not act on life or be 
re-acted upon by life. 

Life to him is rational. It has a clear aim and purpose, 
discernible by the aid of reason and conscience. And no 
human activity can be fully understood or rightly appre 
ciated until the central purpose of life is perceived. 

You cannot piece together a puzzle-map as long as you 
keep one bit in a wrong place, but when the pieces all fit 
together, then you have a demonstration that they are all in 
their right places. Tolstoy used that simile years ago 
when explaining how the comprehension of the text, 
"resist not him that is evil," enabled him to perceive the 
reasonableness of Christ s teaching, which had long baffled 
him. So it is with the problem of Art. Wrongly under 
stood, it will tend to confuse and perplex your whole com 
prehension of life. But given the clue supplied by true 
"religious perception," and you can place art so that it 
shall fit in with a right understanding of politics, economics, 
sex-relationships, science, and all other phases of human 

The basis on which this work rests, is a perception of 
the meaning of human life. This has been quite lost 
sight of by some of the reviewers, who have merely mis 
represented what Tolstoy says, and then demonstrated how 
very stupid he would have been had he said what they 
attributed to him. Leaving his premises and arguments un- 


touched, they dissent from various conclusions as though it 
were all a mere question of taste. They say that they are very 
fond of things which Tolstoy ridicules, and that they can t 
understand why he does not like what they like which is 
quite possible, especially if they have not understood 
the position from which he starts. But such criticism 
can lead to nothing. Discussions as to why one man likes 
pears and another prefers meat, do not help towards 
finding a definition of what is essential in nourishment; 
and just so, " the solution of questions of taste in art does 
not help to make clear what this particular human activity 
which we call art really consists in." 

The object of the following brief summary of a few main 
points is to help the reader to avoid pitfalls into which 
many reviewers have fallen. It aims at being no more than 
a bare statement of the positions for more than that, the 
reader must turn to the book itself. 

Let it be granted at the outset, that Tolstoy writes for 
those who have "ears to hear." He seldom pauses to safe 
guard himself against the captious critic, and cares little 
for minute verbal accuracy. For instance, on page 144, he 
mentions "Paris," where an English writer (even one who 
knew to what an extent Paris is the art centre of France, 
and how many artists flock thither from Russia, America, 
and all ends of the earth) would have been almost sure to 
have said "France," for fear of being thought to exaggerate. 
One needs some alertness of mind to follow Tolstoy in his 
task of compressing so large a subject into so small a 
space. Moreover, he is an emphatic writer who says 
what he means, and even, I think, sometimes rather 
over-emphasises it. With this much warning let us pro 
ceed to a brief summary of Tolstoy s view of art. 

"Art is a human activity," and consequently does not 
exist for its own sake, but is valuable or objectionable in 
proportion as it is serviceable or harmful to mankind. 


The object of this activity is to transmit to others feeling 
the artist has experienced. Such feelings intentionally 
re-evoked and successfully transmitted to others are the 
subject-matter of all art. By certain external signs move 
ments, lines, colours, sounds, or arrangements of words an 
artist infects other people so that they share his feelings. 
Thus "art is a means of union among men, joining them 
together in the same feelings." 

Chapters II. to V. contain an examination of various 
theories which have taken art to be something other than 
this, and step by step we are brought to the conclusion 
that art is this, and nothing but this. 

Having got our definition of art, let us first consider 
art independently of its subject-matter, i.e., without asking 
whether the feelings transmitted are good, bad, or in 
different. Without adequate expression there is no art, 
for there is no infection, no transference to others of the 
author s feeling. The test of art is infection. If an 
author has moved you so that you feel as he felt, if you 
are so united to him in feeling that it seems to you that 
he has expressed just what you have long wished U> express, 
the work that has so infected you is a work of ai*t. 

In this sense, it is true that art has nothing to do 
with morality; for the test lies in the infection/ and not 
in any consideration of the goodness or badness of the 
emotions conveyed. Thus the test of art is an internal 
one. The activity of art is based on the fact that a 
man, receiving, through his sense of hearing or sight, 
another man s expression of feeling, is capable of experi 
encing the emotion that moved the man who expressed it. 
We all share the same common human nature, and in 
this sense, at least, are sons of one Father. To take the 
simplest example: a man laughs, and another, who hears, 
becomes merry; or a man weeps, and another, who hears, 
feels sorrow. Note in passing that it does not amount to 


art "if a man infects others directly, immediately, at the very 
time he experiences the feeling; if he causes another man 
to yawn when he himself cannot help yawning," etc. Art 
begins when some one, with the object of making others share 
his feeling^ expresses his feeling by certain external indica 

Normal human beings possess this faculty to be infected 
by the expression of another man s emotions. For a plain 
man of unperverted taste, living in contact with nature, 
with animals, and with his fellow-men say, for "a country 
peasant of unperverted taste, this is as easy as it is for 
an animal of unspoilt scent to follow the trace he needs." 
And he will know indubitably whether a work presented 
to him does, or does not, unite him in feeling with the 
author. But very many people "of our circle" (upper 
and middle class society) live such unnatural lives, in 
such conventional relations to the people around them, 
and in such artificial surroundings, that they have lost 
"that simple feeling, that sense of infection with another s 
feeling compelling us to joy in another s gladness, to 
sorrow in another s grief, and to mingle souls with another 
which is the essence of art." Such people, therefore, have 
no inner test by which to recognise a work of art; and they 
will always be mistaking other things for art, and seeking 
for external guides, such as the opinions of "recognised 
authorities." Or they will mistake for art something that 
produces a merely physiological effect lulling or exciting 
them; or some intellectual puzzle that gives them some 
thing to think about. 

But if most people of the "cultured crowd" are im 
pervious to true art, is it really possible that a common 
Russian country peasant, for instance, whose work-days are 
filled with agricultural labour, and whose brief leisure is 
largely taken up by his family life and by his participation 
in the affairs of the village commune is it possible that he 


can recognise and be touched by works of art ? Certainly 
it is ! Just as in ancient Greece crowds assembled to hear 
the poems of Homer, so to-day in Russia, as in many 
countries and many ages, the Gospel parables, and much 
else of the highest art, are gladly heard by the common 
people. And this does not refer to any superstitious use 
of the Bible, but to its use as literature. 

Not only do normal, labouring country people possess the 
capacity to be infected by good art "the epic of Genesis, 
folk-legends, fairy-tales, folk-songs, etc.," but they them 
selves produce songs, stories, dances, decorations, etc., 
which are works of true art. Take as examples the works of 
Burns or Bunyan, and the peasant women s song mentioned 
by Tolstoy in Chapter XIV., or some of those melodies pro 
duced by the negro slaves on the southern plantations, which 
have touched, and still touch, many of us with the emotions 
felt by their unknown and unpaid composers. 

The one great quality which makes a work of art truly 
contagious is its sincerity. If an artist is really actuated by 
a feeling, and is strongly impelled to communicate that 
feeling to other people not for money or fame, or anything 
else, but because he feels he must share it then he will not 
be satisfied till he has found a clear way of expressing it. 
And the man who is not borrowing his feelings, but has 
drawn what he expresses from the depths of his nature, 
is sure to be original^ for in the same way that no two 
people have exactly similar faces or forms, no two people 
have exactly similar minds or souls. 

That in briefest outline is what Tolstoy says about art, 
considered apart from its subject-matter. And this is how 
certain critics have met it. They say that when Tolstoy 
says the test of art is internal, he must mean that it is 
external. When he says that country peasants have in the 
past appreciated, and do still appreciate, works of the 
highest art, he means that the way to detect a work of 


art is to see what is apparently most popular among the 
masses. Go into the streets or music-halls of the cities in 
any particular country and year, and observe what is most 
frequently sung, shouted, or played on the barrel-organs. 
It may happen to be 

" Tarara-boom-deay," 

" We don t want to fight, 
But, by Jingo, if we do." 

But whatever it is, you may at once declare these songs to 
be the highest musical art, without even pausing to ask to 
what they owe their vogue what actress, or singer, or 
politician, or wave of patriotic passion has conduced to 
their popularity. Nor need you consider whether that 
popularity is not merely temporary and local. Tolstoy 
has said that works of the highest art are understood by 
unperverted country peasants and here are things which 
are popular with the mob, ergo, these things must be the 
highest art. 

The critics then proceed to say that such a test is utterly 
absurd. And on this point I am able to agree with the critics. 

Some of these writers commence their articles by saying 
that Tolstoy is a most profound thinker, a great prophet, 
an intellectual force, etc. Yet when Tolstoy, in his em 
phatic way, makes the sweeping remark that "good art 
always pleases every one," the critics do not read on to 
find out what he means, but reply: "No! good art does 
not please every one ; some people are colour-blind, and 
some are deaf, or have no ear for music." 

It is as though a man strenuously arguing a point were to 
say, " Every one knows that two and two make four," and 
a boy who did not at all see what the speaker was driving 
at, were to reply : " No, our new-born baby doesn t know 
it ! " It would distract attention from the subject in hand, 
but it would not elucidate matters. 


There is, of course, a verbal contradiction between the 
statements that "good art always pleases every one" 
(p. 100), and the remark concerning "people of our 
circle," who, " with very few exceptions, artists and public 
and critics, . . . cannot distinguish true works of art 
from counterfeits, but continually mistake for real art the 
worst and most artificial" (p. 151). But I venture to think 
that any one of intelligence, and free from prejudice, read 
ing this book carefully, need not fail to reach the author s 

A point to be carefully noted is the distinction between 
science and art. "Science investigates and brings to 
human perception such truths and such knowledge as 
the people of a given time and society consider most 
important. Art transmits these truths from the region 
of perception to the region of -emotion" (p. 102). Science 
is an "activity of the understanding which demands 
preparation and a certain sequence of knowledge, so that 
one cannot learn trigonometry before knowing geometry." 
"The business of art," on the other hand, "lies just in 
this to make that understood and felt which, in the 
form of an argument, might be incomprehensible and 
inaccessible" (p. 102). It "infects any man whatever his 
plane of development," and "the hindrance to under 
standing the best and highest feelings (as is said in the 
gospel) does not at all lie in deficiency of development 
or learning, but, on the contrary, in false development 
and false learning" (pp. 102, 103). Science and art are 
frequently blended in one work e.g., in the gospel elucida 
tion of Christ s comprehension of life, or, to take a modern 
instance, in Henry George s elucidation of the land question 
in Progress and Poverty. 

The class distinction to which Tolstoy repeatedly alludes 
needs some explanation. The position of the lower classes 
in England and in Russia is different. In Russia a much 


larger number of people live on the verge of starvation ; 
the condition of the factory-hands is much worse than 
in England, and there are many glaring cases of brutal 
cruelty inflicted on the peasants by the officials, the police, 
or the military, but in Russia a far greater proportion of 
the population live in the country, and a peasant usually 
has his own house, and tills his share of the communal 
lands. The "unperverted country peasant" of whom 
Tolstoy speaks is a man who perhaps suffers grievous 
want when there is a bad harvest in his province, but 
he is a man accustomed to the experiences of a natural 
life, to the management of his own affairs, and to a 
real voice in the arrangements of the village commune. 
The Government interferes, from time to time, to collect 
its taxes by force, to take the young men for soldiers, or 
to maintain the " rights " of the upper classes ; but other 
wise the peasant is free to do what he sees to be necessary 
and reasonable. On the other hand, English labourers 
are, for the most part, not so poor, they have more legal 
rights, and they have votes; but a far larger number of 
them live in towns and are engaged in unnatural occupa 
tions, while even those that do live in touch with nature 
are usually mere wage-earners, tilling other men s land, 
and living often in abject submission to the farmer, the 
parson, or the lady-bountiful. They are dependent on 
an employer for daily bread, and the condition of a wage- 
labourer is as unnatural as that of a landlord. 

The tyranny of the St. Petersburg bureaucracy is more 
dramatic, but less omnipresent and probably far less fatal to 
the capacity to enjoy art than the tyranny of our respectable, 
self-satisfied, and property-loving middle-class. I am there 
fore afraid that we have no great number of "unperverted " 
country labourers to compare with those of whom Tolstoy 
speaks and some of whom I have known personally. 
But the truth Tolstoy elucidates lies far too deep in 


human nature to be infringed by such differences or 
local circumstance. Whatever those circumstances may 
be, the fact remains that in proportion as a man approaches 
towards the condition not only of " earning his subsistence 
by some kind of labour," but of "living on all its sides 
the life natural and proper to mankind," his capacity to 
appreciate true art tends to increase. On the other hand, 
when a class settles down into an artificial way of life, 
loses touch with nature, becomes confused in its perceptions 
of what is good and what is bad, and prefers the condition 
of a parasite to that of a producer, its capacity to appre 
ciate true art must diminish. Having lost all clear perception 
of the meaning of life, such people are necessarily left 
without any criterion which will enable them to distinguish 
good from bad art, and they are sure to follow eagerly after 
beauty, or "that which pleases them." 

The artists of our society can usually only reach 
people of the upper and middle classes. But who is the 
great artist? he who delights a select audience of his 
own day and class, or he whose works link generation to 
generation and race to race in a common bond of feeling ? 
Surely art should fulfil its purpose as completely as possible. 
A work of art that united every one with the author, 
and with one another, would be perfect art. Tolstoy, in 
his emphatic way, speaks of works of "universal" art, 
and (though the profound critics hasten to inform us that 
no work of art ever reached everybody) certainly the 
more nearly a work of art approaches to such ex 
pression of feeling that every one may be infected by it 
the nearer (apart from all question of subject-matter) 
it approaches perfection. 

But now as to subject-matter. The subject-matter of art 
consists of feelings which can be spread from man to man, 
feelings which are " contagious " or "infectious." Is it of no- 
importance what feelings increase and multiply among men ? 


One man feels that submission to the authority of his 
church, and belief in all that it teaches him, is good; another 
is embued by a sense of each man s duty to think with his 
own head to use for his guidance in life the reason and 
conscience given to him. One man feels that his nation 
ought to wipe out in blood the shame of a defeat inflicted 
on her; another feels that we are brothers, sons of one 
spirit, and that the slaughter of man by man is always 
wrong. One man feels that the most desirable thing in 
life is the satisfaction obtainable by the love of women ; 
another man feels that sex-love is an entanglement and a 
snare, hindering his real work in life. And each of these, 
if he possess an artist s gift of expression, and if the 
feeling be really his own and sincere, may infect other 
men. But some of these feelings will benefit and some 
will harm mankind, and the more widely they are spread 
the greater will be their effect. 

Art unites men. Surely it is desirable that the feelings 
in which it unites them should be "the best and highest 
to which men have risen," or at least should not run 
contrary to our perception of what makes for the well- 
being of ourselves and of others. And our perception 
of what makes for the well-being of ourselves and of 
others is what Tolstoy calls our "religious perception." 

Therefore the subject-matter of what we, in our day, 
can esteem as being the best art, can be of two kinds 

(1) Feelings flowing from the highest perception now 
attainable by man of our right relation to our neighbour 
and to the Source from which we come. Dickens 
" Christmas Carol," uniting us in a more vivid sense of 
compassion and love, is a ready example of such art. 

(2) The simple feelings of common life, accessible to 
every one provided that they are such as do not hinder 
progress towards well-being. Art of this kind makes us 


realise to how great an extent we already are members 
one of another sharing the feelings of one common human 

The success of a very primitive novel the story of 
Joseph, which made its way into the sacred books of the 
Jews, spread from land to land and from age to age, and 
continues to be read to-day among people quite free from 
bibliolatry shows how nearly " universal " may be the 
appeal of this kind of art. This branch includes all 
harmless jokes, folk-stories, nursery rhymes, and even dolls, 
if only the author or designer has expressed a feeling 
(tenderness, pleasure, humour, or what not) so as to infect 

But how are we to know what are the " best " feelings ? 
What is good? and what is evil? This is decided by 
"religious perception." Some such perception exists in 
every human being; there is always something he approves 
of, and something he disapproves of. Reason and con 
science are always present, active or latent, as long as 
man lives. Miss Flora Shaw tells that the most degraded 
cannibal she ever met, drew the line at eating his own 
mother nothing would induce him to entertain the thought, 
his moral sense was revolted by the suggestion. In most 
societies the " religious perception," to which they have 
advanced, the foremost stage in mankind s long march 
towards perfection, which has been discerned, has been 
clearly expressed by some one, and more or less con 
sciously accepted as an ideal by the many. But there 
are transition periods in history when the worn-out for 
mularies of a past age have ceased to satisfy men, or 
have become so incrusted with superstitions that their 
original brightness is lost. The religious perception" 
that is dawning may not yet have found such expression as 
to be generally understood, but for all that it exists, and 
shows itself by compelling men to repudiate beliefs that 


satisfied their forefathers, the outward and visible signs of 
which are still endowed and dominant long after their spirit 
has taken refuge in temples not made with hands. 

At such times it is difficult for men to understand each 
other, for the very words needed to express the deepest 
experiences of men s consciousness mean different things to 
different men. So among us to-day, to many minds faith 
means credulity^ and God suggests a person of the male 
sex, father of one only-begotten son, and creator of the 

This is why Tolstoy s clear and rational " religious per 
ception," expressed in the books named on a previous page, 
is frequently spoken of by people who have not grasped it, 
as " mysticism." 

The narrow materialist is shocked to find that Tolstoy 
will not confine himself to the "objective" view of life. 
Encountering in himself that "inner voice" which compels 
us all to choose between good and evil, Tolstoy refuses to be 
diverted from a matter which is of immediate and vital 
importance to him, by discussions as to the derivation of 
the external manifestations of conscience which biologists 
are able to detect in remote forms of life. The real mystic, 
on the other hand, shrinks from Tolstoy s desire to try all 
things by the light of reason, to depend on nothing vague, 
and to accept nothing on authority. The man who does 
not trust his own reason, fears that life thus squarely faced 
will prove less worth having than it is when clothed in 

In this work, however, Tolstoy does not recapitulate at 
length what he has said before. He does not pause to 
re-explain why he condemns Patriotism i.e., each man s 
preference for the predominance of his own country, which 
leads to the murder of man by man in war ; or Churches, 
which are sectarian i.e., which striving to assert that your 
doxy is heterodoxy, but that our doxy is orthodoxy, make 


external authorities (Popes, Bibles, Councils) supreme, and 
cling to superstitions (their oivn miracles, legends, and 
myths), thus separating themselves from communion with 
the rest of mankind. Nor does he re-explain why he (like 
Christ) says " pitiable is your plight ye rich," who live 
artificial lives, maintainable only by the unbrotherly use of 
force (police; and soldiers), but blessed are ye poor who, 
by your way of life, are within easier reach of brotherly con 
ditions, if you will but trust to reason and conscience, and 
change the direction of your hearts and of your labour, 
working no more primarily from fear or greed, but seeking 
first the kingdom of righteousness, in which all good things 
will be added unto you. He merely summarises it all in a 
few sentences, defining the " religious perception " of to-day, 
which alone can decide for us "the degree of importance 
both of the feelings transmitted by art and of the informa 
tion transmitted by science." 

" The religious perception of our time, in its widest and 
most practical application, is the consciousness that our 
well-being, both material and spiritual, individual and 
collective, temporal and eternal, lies in the growth of 
brotherhood among men in their loving harmony with 
one another" (p. 159). 

And again : 

" However differently in form people belonging to our 
Christian world may define the destiny of man ; whether 
they see it in human progress in whatever sense of the 
words, in the union of all men in a socialistic realm, or in 
the establishment of a commune; whether they look forward 
to the union of mankind under the guidance of one universal 
Church, or to the federation of the world, however 
various in form their definitions of the destination of human 
life may be, all men in our times already admit that the 
highest well-being attainable by men is to be reached by 
their union with one another" (p. 188). 



This is the foundation on which the whole work is based. 

It follows necessarily from this perception that we should 
consider as most important in science "investigations into 
the results of good and bad actions, considerations of the 
reasonableness or unreasonableness of human institutions 
and beliefs, considerations of how human life should be 
lived in order to obtain the greatest well-being for each; as 
to what one may and ought, and what one cannot and 
should not believe; how to subdue one s passions, and how 
to acquire the habit of virtue." This is the science that 
" occupied Moses, Solon, Socrates, Epictetus, Confucius, 
Mencius, Marcus Aurelius, Spinoza, and all those who have 
taught men to live a moral life," and it is precisely the kind 
of scientific investigation to which Tolstoy has devoted most 
of the last twenty years, and for the sake of which he is 
often said to have " abandoned art." 

Since science, like art, is a " human activity," that science 
best deserves our esteem, best deserves to be "chosen, 
tolerated, approved, and diffused," which treats of what is 
supremely important to man ; which deals with urgent, 
vital, inevitable problems of actual life. Such science as 
this brings "to the consciousness of men the truths that 
flow from the religious perception of our times," and 
"indicates the various methods of applying this conscious 
ness to life." "Art should transform this perception into 

The " science " which is occupied in "pouring liquids 
from one jar into another, or analysing the spectrum, or 
cutting up frogs and porpoises," is no use for rendering such 
guidance to art, though capable of practical applications 
which, under a more righteous system of society, might 
greatly have lightened the sufferings of mankind. 

Naturally enough, the last chapter of the book deals with 
the relation between science and art. And the conclusion 
is that : 


" The destiny of art in our time is to transmit from the 
realm of reason to the realm of feeling the truth that well- 
being for men consists in being united together, and to set 
up, in place of the existing reign of force, that kingdom of 
God, i.e. of love, which we all recognise to be the highest 
aim of human life." 

And this art of the future will not be poorer, but far 
, richer, in subject-matter than the art of to-day. From the 
lullaby that will delight millions of people, generation after 
generation to the highest religious art, dealing with strong, 
rich, and varied emotions flowing from a fresh outlook upon 
life and all its problems the field open for good art is 
enormous. With so much to say that is urgently important 
to all, the art of the future will, in matter of form also, be 
far superior to our art in " clearness, beauty, simplicity, and 
compression " (p. 194). 

For beauty (i.e., "that which pleases " ) though it depends 
on taste, and can furnish no criterion for art will be a 
natural characteristic of work done, not for hire, nor even 
for fame, but because men, living a natural and healthy life, 
wish to share the " highest spiritual strength which passes 
through them " with the greatest possible number of others. 
The feelings such an artist wishes to share, he will transmit 
in a way that will please him, and will please other men 
who share his nature. 

Morality is in the nature of things we cannot escape it. 

In a society where each man sets himself to obtain 
wealth, the difficulty of obtaining an honest living tends to 
become greater and greater. The more keenly a society 
pants to obtain "that which pleases," and puts this for 
ward as the first and great consideration, the more puerile 
and worthless will their art become. But in a society which 
sought, primarily, for right relations between its members, 
an abundance would easily be obtainable for all ; and 
when " religious perception " guides a people s art beauty 


inevitably results, as has always been the case when men 
have seized a fresh perception of life and of its purpose. 

An illustration which Tolstoy struck out of the work 
while it was being printed, may serve to illustrate how, with 
the aid of the principles explained above, we may judge of 
the merits of any work professing to be art. 

Take Romeo and Juliet. The conventional view is that 
Shakespear is the greatest of artists, and that Romeo and 
Juliet is one of his good plays. Why this is so nobody can 
tell you. It is so : that is the way certain people feel about 
it. They are " the authorities," and to doubt their dictum 
is to show that you know nothing about art. Tolstoy does 
not agree with them in their estimate of Shakespear, 
therefore Tolstoy is wrong ! 

But now let us apply Tolstoy s view of art to Romeo 
and Juliet. He does not deny that it infects. " Let us 
admit that it is a work of art, that it infects (though it is so 
artificial that it can infect only those who have been care 
fully educated thereunto); but what are the feelings it 
transmits ? " 

That is to say, judging by the infernal test, Tolstoy 
admits that Romeo and Juliet unites him to its author and 
to other people in feeling. But the work is very far from 
being one of " universal " art only a small minority of 
people ever have cared, or ever will care, for it. Even in 
England, or even in the layer of European society it 
is best adapted to reach, it only touches a minority, and 
does not approach the universality attained by the story of 
Joseph and many pieces of folk-lore. 

But perhaps the subject-matter, the feeling with which 
Romeo and Juliet infects those whom it does reach, lifts it 
into the class of the highest religious art? Not so. The 
feeling is one of the attractiveness of "love at first sight." 
A girl fourteen years old and a young man meet at an 


aristocratic party, where there is feasting and pleasure and 
idleness, and, without knowing each other s minds, they 
fall in love as the birds and beasts do. If any feeling is 
transmitted to us, it is the feeling that there is a pleasure in 
these things. Somewhere, in most natures, there dwells, 
dominant or dormant, an inclination to let such physical 
sexual attraction guide our course in life. To give it a plain 
name, it is "sensuality." "How can I, father or mother of 
a daughter of Juliet s age, wish that those foul feelings 
which the play transmits should be communicated to my 
daughter? And if the feelings transmitted by the play 
are bad, how can I call it good in subject-matter?" 

But, objects a friend, the moral of Romeo and Juliet is 
excellent. See what disasters followed from the physical 
"love at first sight." But that is quite another matter. 
It is the feelings with which you are infected when reading, 
and not any moral you can deduce, that is subject-matter 
of art. Pondering upon the consequences that flow from 
Romeo and Juliet s behaviour may belong to the domain 
of moral science, but not to that of art. 

I have hesitated to use an illustration Tolstoy had struck 
out, but I think it serves its purpose. No doubt there are 
other, subordinate, feelings (e.g. humour) to be found in 
Romeo and Juliet ; but many quaint conceits that are in 
genious, and have been much admired, are not, I think, 

Tried by such tests, the enormous majority of the things 
we have been taught to consider great works of art are 
found wanting. Either they fail to infect (and attract 
merely by being interesting, realistic, effectful, or by bor 
rowing from others), and are therefore not works of art at 
all; or they are works of "exclusive art," bad in form and 
capable of infecting only a select audience trained and 
habituated to such inferior art ; or they are bad in subject- 
matter, transmitting feelings harmful to mankind. 


Tolstoy does not shrink from condemning his own 
artistic productions; with the exception of two short stories, 
he tells us they are works of bad art. Take, for instance, 
the novel Resurrection, which is now appearing, and of 
which he has, somewhere, spoken disparagingly, as being 
"written in my former style," and being therefore bad art. 
What does this mean ? The book is a masterpiece in its 
own line ; it is eagerly read in many languages ; it un 
doubtedly infects its readers, and the feelings transmitted 
are, in the main, such as Tolstoy approves of in fact, they are 
the feelings to which his religious perception has brought 
him. If lust is felt in one chapter, the reaction follows 
as inevitably as in real life, and is transmitted with great 
artistic power. Why a work of such rare merit does not 
satisfy Tolstoy, is because it is a work of "exclusive 
art," laden with details of time and place. It has not the 
" simplicity and compression" necessary in works of "uni 
versal " art. Things are mentioned which might apparently 
be quite well omitted. The style, also, is not one of great 
simplicity; the sentences are often long and involved, as is 
commonly the case in Tolstoy s writings. It is a novel 
appealing mainly to the class that has leisure for novel read 
ing because it neglects to produce its own food, make its own 
clothes, or build its own houses. If Tolstoy is stringent in 
his judgment of other artists, he is more stringent still in 
his judgment of his own artistic works Had Resurrec 
tion been written by Dickens, or by Hugo, Tolstoy would, I 
think, have found a place for it (with whatever reservations) 
among the examples of religious art. For indeed, strive as 
we may to be clear and explicit, our approval and dis 
approval is a matter of degree. The thought which under 
lay the remark: " Why callest thou me good? none is good, 
save one, even God," applies not to man only, but to all 
things human. 

What is Art? itself is a work of science though 


many passages, and even some whole chapters, appeal to us 
as works of art, and we feel the contagion of the author s hope, 
his anxiety to serve the cause of truth and love, his indig 
nation (sometimes rather sharply expressed) with what 
blocks the path of advance, and his contempt for much 
that the "cultured crowd," in our erudite, perverted society, 
have persuaded themselves, and would fain persuade others, 
is the highest art. 

One result which follows inevitably from Tolstoy s view 
(and which illustrates how widely his views differ from the 
fashionable aesthetic mysticism), is that art is not stationary 
but progressive. It is true that our highest religious per 
ception found expression eighteen hundred years ago, and 
then served as the basis of an art which is still un 
matched; and similar cases can be instanced from the 
East. But allowing for such great exceptions, to which, 
not inaptly, the term of " inspiration " has been specially 
applied, the subject-matter of art improves, though long 
periods of time may have to be considered in order to 
make this obvious. Our power of verbal expression, for 
instance, may now be no better than it was in the days of 
David, but we must no longer esteem as good in subject- 
matter poems which appeal to the Eternal to destroy a 
man s private or national foes ; for we have reached a 
"religious perception" which bids us have no foes, and 
the ultimate source (undefinable by us) from which this 
consciousness has come, is what we mean when we speak 
of God. 


2yd March 1899. 

THIS book of mine, "What is Art?" appears now for the 
first time in its true form. More than one edition has 
already been issued in Russia, but in each case it has been 
so mutilated by the "Censor," that I request all who are 
interested in my views on art only to judge of them by 
the work in its present shape. The causes which led to 
the publication of the book with my name attached to 
it in a mutilated form, were the following : In accord 
ance with a decision I arrived at long ago, not to submit 
my writings to the " Censorship " (which I consider to be 
an immoral and irrational institution), but to print them 
only in the shape in which they were written, I intended 
not to attempt to print this work in Russia. However, 
my good acquaintance Professor Grote, editor of a Moscow 
psychological magazine, having heard of the contents of my 
work, asked me to print it in his magazine, and promised 
me that he would get the book through the " Censor s " 
office unmutilated if I would but agree to a few very 
unimportant alterations, merely toning down certain ex 
pressions. I was weak enough to agree to this, and it 
has resulted in a book appearing, under my name, from 
which not only have some essential thoughts been excluded, 
but into which the thoughts of other men even thoughts 
utterly opposed to my own convictions have been intro 


The thing occurred in this way. First, Grote softened 
my expressions, and in some cases weakened them. For 
instance, he replaced the words : always by sometimes, all 
hy some, Church religion by Roman Catholic religion, 
"Mother of God" by Madonna, patriotism by pseudo- 
patriotism, palaces by palatii, 1 etc., and I did not consider 
it necessary to protest. But when the book was already 
in type, the Censor required that whole sentences should 
be altered, and that instead of what I said about the evil 
of landed property, a remark should be substituted on the 
evils of a landless proletariat. 2 I agreed to this also and 
to some further alterations. It seemed not worth while 
to upset the whole affair for the sake of one sentence, and 
when one alteration had been agreed to it seemed not 
worth while to protest against a second and a third. So, 
little by little, expressions crept into the book which 
altered the sense and attributed things to me that I could 
not have wished to say. So that by the time the book 
was printed it had been deprived of some part of its 
integrity and sincerity. But there was consolation in the 
thought that the book, even in this form, if it contains 
something that is good, would be of use to Eussian readers 
whom it would otherwise not have reached. Things, how- 

1 Tolstoy s remarks on Church religion were re- worded so as to seem 
to relate only to the Western Church, and his disapproval of luxurious 
life was made to apply not, say, to Queen Victoria or Nicholas n., 
but to the Caesars or the Pharaohs. Trans. 

2 The Russian peasant is usually a member of a village commune, 
and has therefore a right to a share in the land belonging to the 
village. Tolstoy disapproves of the order of society which allows 
less land for the support of a whole village full of people than is 
sometimes owned by a single landed proprietor. The "Censor" will 
not allow disapproval of this state of things to be expressed, but is 
prepared to admit that the laws and customs, say, of England 
where a yet more extreme form of landed property exists, and the 
men who actually labour on the land usually possess none of it 
deserve criticism. Trans. 


ever, turned out otherwise. Nous comptions sans notre 
Iwte. After the legal term of four days had already elapsed, 
the book was seized, and, on instructions received from 
Petersburg, it was handed over to the "Spiritual Censor." 
Then Grote declined all further participation in the affair, 
and the " Spiritual Censor " proceeded to do what he would 
with the book. The " Spiritual Censorship " is one of the 
most ignorant, venal, stupid, and despotic institutions in 
Russia. Books which disagree in any way with the recog 
nised state religion of Russia, if once it gets hold of them, 
are almost always totally suppressed and burnt; which is 
what happened to all my religious works when attempts 
were made to print them in Russia. Probably a similar 
fate would have overtaken this work also, had not the 
editors of the magazine employed all means to save it. 
The result of their efforts was that the " Spiritual Censor," 
a priest who probably understands art and is interested in 
art as much as I understand or am interested in church 
services, but who gets a good salary for destroying whatever 
is likely to displease his superiors, struck out all that 
seemed to him to endanger his position, and substituted 
his thoughts for mine wherever he considered it necessary 
to do so. For instance, where I speak of Christ going to 
the Cross for the sake of the truth He professed, the 
"Censor" substituted a statement that Christ died for 
mankind, i.e. he attributed to me an assertion of the 
dogma of the Redemption, which I consider to be one 
of the most untrue and harmful of Church dogmas. After 
correcting the book in this way, the "Spiritual Censor" 
allowed it to be printed. 

To protest in Russia is impossible, no newspaper would 
publish such a protest, and to withdraw my book from the 
magazine and place the editor in an awkward position with 
the public was also not possible. 

So the matter has remained. A book has appeared under 


my name containing thoughts attributed to me which are 
not mine. 

I was persuaded to give my article to a Eussian magazine, 
in order that my thoughts, which may he useful, should 
become the possession of Eussian readers; and the result 
has been that my name is affixed to a work from which 
it might be assumed that I quite arbitrarily assert things 
contrary to the general opinion, without adducing my 
reasons ; that I only consider false patriotism bad, but patriot 
ism in general a very good feeling ; that I merely deny the 
absurdities of the Eoman Catholic Church and disbelieve 
in the Madonna, but that I believe in the Orthodox Eastern 
faith and in the " Mother of God " ; that I consider all the 
writings collected in the Bible to be holy books, and see 
the chief importance of Christ s life in the Eedemption of 
mankind by his death. 

I have narrated all this in such detail because it strik 
ingly illustrates the indubitable truth, that all compromise 
with institutions of which your conscience disapproves, 
compromises which are usually made for the sake of the 
general good, instead of producing the good you expected, 
inevitably lead you not only to acknowledge the institution 
you disapprove of, but also to participate in the evil that 
institution produces. 

I am glad to be able by this statement at least to do 
something to correct the error into which I was led by 
my compromise. 

I have also to mention that besides reinstating the parts 
excluded by the Censor from the Eussian editions, other 
corrections and additions of importance have been made in 
this edition. 


29M March 1898. 



Time and labour spent on art Lives stunted in its service 
Morality sacrificed to and anger justified by art The 
rehearsal of an opera described .... 1 


Does art compensate for so much evil ? What is art ? Con 
fusion of opinions Is it "that which produces beauty" ? 
The word " beauty" in Russian Chaos in aesthetics . 9 


Summary of various aesthetic theories and definitions, from 

Baumgarten to to-day ..... 20 


Definitions of art founded on beauty Taste not definable 
A clear definition needed to enable us to recognise works 
of art . . . . . .38 


Definitions not founded on beauty Tolstoy s definition The 
extent and necessity of art How people in the past have 
distinguished good from bad in art 46 

xxxviii CONTENTS. 



How art for pleasure has come into esteem Religions indicate 
what is considered good and bad Church Christianity 
The Renaissance Scepticism of the upper classes They 
confound beauty with goodness .... 53 


An aesthetic theory framed to suit this view of life . . 61 


Who have adopted it ? Real art needful for all men Our art 
too expensive, too unintelligible, and too harmful for the 
masses The theory of "the elect " in art . . 67 


Perversion of our art It has lost its natural subject-matter 
Has no flow of fresh feeling Transmits chiefly three base 
emotions ....... 73 


Loss of comprehensibility Decadent art Recent French art 
Have we a right to say it is bad and that what we like 
is good art ? The highest art has always been compre 
hensible to normal people What fails to infect normal 
people is not art . . . . .79 


Counterfeits of art produced by : Borrowing ; Imitating ; 
Striking ; Interesting Qualifications needful for produc 
tion of real works of art, and those sufficient for produc 
tion of counterfeits ..... 106 


Causes of production of counterfeits Professionalism Criti 
cism Schools of art ..... 118 


Wagner s " Nibelung s Ring "a type of counterfeit art Its 

success, and the reasons thereof . . . .128 

CONTENTS. xxxix 



Truths fatal to preconceived views are not readily recognised 
Proportion of works of art to counterfeits Perversion 
of taste and incapacity to recognise art Examples . 143- 


The quality of art, considered apart from its subject- 
matter The sign of art : infectiousness Incomprehen 
sible to those whose taste is perverted Conditions of 
infection : Individuality ; Clearness ; Sincerity . . 152 


The quality of art, considered according to its subject- 
matter The better the feeling the better the art The 
cultured crowd The religious perception of our age The 
new ideals put fresh demands to art Art unites 
Religious art Universal art Both co-operate to one 
result The new appraisement of art Bad art Examples 
of art -How to test a work claiming to be art . . 156 


Results of absence of true art Results of perversion of art : 
Labour and lives spent on what is useless and harmful 
The abnormal life of the rich Perplexity of children and 
plain folk Confusion of right and wrong Nietzsche and 
Redbeard Superstition, Patriotism, and Sensuality . 175 



lie purpose of human life is the brotherly union of man Art 

must be guided by this perception. . . . 187 


I The art of the future not a possession of a select minority, but 

a means towards perfection and unity . . .192 


The connection between science and art The mendacious 
sciences ; the trivial sciences Science should deal with 
the great problems of human life, and serve as a basis 
for ait 200 




Appendix I , . . - 215 

., II .... 218 

.,111 226 

IV . . 232 

TAKE up any one of our ordinary newspapers, and you 
will find a part devoted to the theatre and music. In 
almost every number you will find a description of some 
art exhibition, or of some particular picture, and you will 
always find reviews of new works of art that have appeared, 
of volumes of poems, of short stories, or of novels. 

Promptly, and in detail, as soon as it has occurred, an 
account is published of how such and such an actress or 
actor played this or that role in such and such a drama, 
comedy, or opera ; and of the merits of the performance, as 
well as of the contents of the new drama, comedy, or opera, 
with its defects and merits. With as much care and detail, 
or even more, we are told how such and such an artist 
has sung a certain piece, or has played it on the piano or 
violin, and what were the merits and defects of the piece 
and of the performance. In every large town there is sure 
to be at least one, if not more than one, exhibition of new 
pictures, the merits and defects of which are discussed in 
the utmost detail by critics and connoisseurs. 

New novels and poems, in separate volumes or in the 
magazines, appear almost every day, and the newspapers 
consider it their duty to give their readers detailed accounts 
of these artistic productions. 


For the support of art in Kussia (where for the education 
of the people only a hundredth part is spent of what would 
be required to give everyone the opportunity of instruction) 
the Government grants millions of roubles in subsidies to 
academies, conservatoires and theatres. In France twenty 
million francs are assigned for art, and similar grants are 
made in Germany and England. 

In every large town enormous buildings are erected for 
museums, academies, conservatoires, dramatic schools, and for 
performances and concerts. Hundreds of thousands of work 
men, carpenters, masons, painters, joiners, paperhangers, 
tailors, hairdressers, jewellers, moulders, type-setters, spend 
their whole lives in hard labour to satisfy the demands of 
art, so that hardly any other department of human activity, 
except the military, consumes so much energy as this. 

Not only is enormous labour spent on this activity, but in 
it, as in war, the very lives of men are sacrificed. Hundreds 
of thousands of people devote their lives from childhood to 
learning to twirl their legs rapidly (dancers), or to touch 
notes and strings very rapidly (musicians), or to draw with 
paint and represent what they see (artists), or to turn every 
phrase inside out and find a rhyme to every word. And these 
people, often very kind and clever, and capable of all sorts 
of useful labour, grow savage over their specialised and 
stupefying occupations, and become one-sided and self- 
complacent specialists, dull to all the serious phenomena of 
life, and skilful only at rapidly twisting their legs, their 
tongues, or their fingers. 

But even this stunting of human life is not the worst. I 
remember being once at the rehearsal of one of the most 
ordinary of the new operas which are produced at all the 
opera houses of Europe and America. 

I arrived when the first act had already commenced. To 
reach the auditorium I had to pass through the stage 
entrance. By dark entrances and passages, I was led through 


the vaults of an enormous building past immense machines 
for changing the scenery and for illuminating ; and there in 
the gloom and dust I saw workmen busily engaged. One 
of these men, pale, haggard, in a dirty blouse, with dirty, 
work-worn hands and cramped fingers, evidently tired and 
out of humour, went past me, angrily scolding another man. 
Ascending by a dark stair, I came out on the boards behind 
the scenes. Amid various poles and rings and scattered 
scenery, decorations arid curtains, stood and moved dozens, 
if not hundreds, of painted and dressed-up men, in costumes 
fitting tight to their thighs and calves, and also women, as 
usual, as nearly nude as might be. These were all singers, 
or members of the chorus, or ballet-dancers, awaiting their 
turns. My guide led me across the stage and, by means of 
a bridge of boards, across the orchestra (in which perhaps 
a hundred musicians of all kinds, from kettle-drum to flute 
and harp, were seated), to the dark pit-stalls. 

On an elevation, between two lamps with reflectors, and 
in an arm-chair placed before a music-stand, sat the director 
of the musical part, baton in hand, managing the orchestra 
and singers, and, in general, the production of the whole 

The performance had already commenced, and on the 
stage a procession of Indians who had brought home a bride 
was being represented. Besides men and women in costume, 
two other men in ordinary clothes bustled and ran about on 
the stage ; one was the director of the dramatic part, and 
the other, who stepped about in soft shoes and ran from 
place to place with unusual agility, was the dancing-master, 
whose salary per month exceeded what ten labourers earn 
in a year. 

These three directors arranged the singing, the orchestra, 
and the procession. The procession, as usual, was enacted 
by couples, with tinfoil halberds on their shoulders. They 
all came from one place, and walked round and round again, 

4 WHAT is ART? 

and then stopped. The procession took a long time to 
arrange : first the Jndians with halberds came on too late ; 
then too soon ; then at the right time, but crowded together 
at the exit ; then they did not crowd, but arranged themselves 
badly at the sides of the stage ; and each time the whole 
performance was stopped and recommenced from the be 
ginning. The procession was introduced by a recitative, 
delivered by a man dressed up like some variety of Turk, 
who, opening his mouth in a curious way, sang, " Home I 
bring the bri-i-ide." He sings and waves his arm (which is 
of course bare) from under his mantle. The procession 
commences, but here the French horn, in the accompaniment 
of the recitative, does something wrong ; and the director, 
with a shudder as if some catastrophe had occurred, raps 
with his stick on the stand. All is stopped, and the 
director, turning to the orchestra, attacks the French horn, 
scolding him in the rudest terms, as cabmen abuse each 
other, for taking the wrong note. And again the whole 
thing recommences. The Indians with their halberds 
again come on, treading softly in their extraordinary boots ; 
again the singer sings, "Home I bring the bri-i-ide." But 
here the pairs get too close together. More raps with 
the stick, more scolding, and a recommencement. Again, 
"Home I bring the bri-i-ide," again the same gesticulation 
with the bare arm from under the mantle, and again the 
couples, treading softly with halberds on their shoulders, 
some with sad and serious faces, some talking and smiling, 
arrange themselves in a circle and begin to sing. All 
seems to be going well, but again the stick raps, and the 
director, in a distressed and angry voice, begins to scold 
the men and women of the chorus. It appears that when 
singing they had omitted to raise their hands from time to 
time in sign of animation. "Are you all dead, or what? 
Cows that you are ! Are you corpses, that you can t move 1 " 
Again they re-commence, " Home I bring the bri-i-ide," and 


again, with sorrowful faces, the chorus women sing, first one 
and then another of them raising their hands. But two 
chorus-girls speak to each other, again a more vehement 
rapping with the stick. " Have you come here to talk ? Can t 
you gossip at home? You there in red breeches, come 
nearer. Look towards me ! Recommence ! " Again, " Home 
I bring the bri-i-ide." And so it goes on for one, two, three 
hours. The whole of such a rehearsal lasts six hours on 
end. Raps with the stick, repetitions, placings, corrections 
of the singers, of the orchestra, of the procession, of the 
dancers, all seasoned with angry scolding. I heard the 
words, "asses," "fools," "idiots," "swine," addressed to the 
musicians and singers at least forty times in the course of 
one hour. And the unhappy individual to whom the abuse 
is addressed, flautist, horn-blower, or singer, physically and 
mentally demoralised, does not reply, and does what is 
demanded of him. Twenty times is repeated the one phrase, 
" Home I bring the bri-i-ide," and twenty times the striding 
about in yellow shoes with a halberd over the shoulder. 
The conductor knows that these people are so demoralised 
that they are no longer fit for anything but to blow trumpets 
and walk about with halberds and in yellow shoes, and that 
they are also accustomed to dainty, easy living, so that they 
will put up with anything rather than lose their luxurious 
life. He therefore gives free vent to his churlishness, 
especially as he has seen the same thing done in Paris and 
Vienna, and knows that this is the way the best conductors 
behave, and that it is a musical tradition of great artists 
to be so carried away by the great business of their art 
that they cannot pause to consider the feelings of other 

It would be difficult to find a more repulsive sight. I 
have seen one workman abuse another for not supporting 
the weight piled upon him when goods wore being unloaded, 
or, at hay-stacking, the village elder scold a peasant for not 


making the rick right, and the man submitted in silence. 
And, however unpleasant it was to witness the scene, the 
unpleasantness was lessened by the consciousness that the 
business in hand was needful and important, and that the 
fault for which the head-man scolded the labourer was one 
which might spoil a needful undertaking. 

But what was being done here 1 ? For what, and for 
whom ? Very likely the conductor was tired out, like the 
workman I passed in the vaults ; it was even evident that 
he was; but who made him tire himself? And for what 
was he tiring himself? The opera he was rehearsing was 
one of the most ordinary of operas for people who are 
accustomed to them, but also one of the most gigantic 
absurdities that could possibly be devised. An Indian king 
wants to marry ; they bring him a bride ; he disguises him 
self as a minstrel ; the bride falls in love with the minstrel 
and is in despair, but afterwards discovers that the minstrel 
is the king, and everyone is highly delighted. 

That there never were, or could be, such Indians, and that 
they were not only unlike Indians, but that what they were 
doing was unlike anything on earth except other operas, 
was beyond all manner of doubt; that people do not con 
verse in such a way as recitative, and do not place them 
selves at fixed distances, in a quartet, waving their arms to 
express their emotions ; that nowhere, except in theatres, do 
people walk about in such a manner, in pairs, with tinfoil 
halberds and in slippers ; that no one ever gets angry in such 
a way, or is affected in such a way, or laughs in such a way, 
or cries in such a way ; and that no one on earth can 
be moved by such performances; all this is beyond the 
possibility of doubt 

Instinctively the question presents itself For whom is 
this being done? "Whom can it please 1 ? If there are, 
occasionally, good melodies in the opera, to which it is 
pleasant to listen, they could have been sung simply, without 


these stupid costumes and all the processions and recitatives 
and hand-wavings. 

The ballet, in which half-naked women make voluptuous 
movements, twisting themselves into various sensual wreath- 
ings, is oirnply a lewd performance. 

So one is quite at a loss as to whom these things are done 
for. The man of culture is heartily sick of them, while to 
a real working man they are utterly incomprehensible. If 
anyone can be pleased by these things (which is doubtful), 
it can only be some young footman or depraved artisan, who 
has contracted the spirit of the upper classes but is not yet 
satiated with their amusements, and wishes to show his 

And all this nasty folly is prepared, not simply, nor with 
kindly merriment, but with anger and brutal cruelty. 

It is said that it is all done for the sake of art, and that 
art is a very important thing. But is it true that art is so 
important that such sacrifices should be made for its sake 1 
This question is especially urgent, because art, for the sake 
of which the labour of millions, the lives of men, and above 
all, love between man and man, are being sacrificed, this 
very art is becoming something more and more vague and 
uncertain to human perception. 

Criticism, in which the lovers of art used to find support 
for their opinions, has latterly become so self -contradictory, 
that, if we exclude from the domain of art all that to 
which the critics of various schools themselves deny the 
title, there is scarcely any art left. 

The artists of various sects, like the theologians of the 
various sects, mutually exclude and destroy themselves. 
Listen to the artists of the. schools of our times, and you 
will find, in all branches, each set of artists disowning others. 
In poetry the old romanticists deny the parnassians and 
the decadents ; the parnassians disown the romanticists and 
the decadents ; the decadents disown all their predecessors 


and the symbolists ; the symbolists disown all their pre 
decessors and les mages ; and Ics mages disown all, all their 
predecessors. Among novelists we have naturalists, psycho 
logists, and " nature-is ts, : all rejecting each other. Audit 
is the same in dramatic art, in painting and in music. So 
that art, which demands such tremendous labour-sacrifices 
from the people, which stunts human lives and transgresses 
against human love, is not only not a thing clearly and 
firmly denned, but is understood in sucli contradictory ways 
by its own devotees that it is difficult to say what is meant 
by art, and especially what is good, useful art, art for the 
sake of which we might condone such sacrifices as are being 
offered at its shrine. 


FOR the production of every ballet, circus, opera, operetta, 
exhibition, picture, concert, or printed book, the intense and 
unwilling labour of thousands and thousands of people is 
needed at what is often harmful and humiliating work. 
It were well if artists made all they require for themselves, 
but, as it is, they all need the help of workmen, not only to 
produce art, but also for their own usually luxurious main 
tenance. And, one way or other, they get it ; either through 
payments from rich people, or through subsidies given by 
Government (in Russia, for instance, in grants of millions of 
roubles to theatres, conservatoires and academies). This 
money is collected from the people, some of whom have to 
sell their only cow to pay the tax, and who never get those 
aesthetic pleasures which art gives. 

It was all very well for a Greek or Roman artist, or even 
for a Russian artist of the first half of our century (when 
there were still slaves, and it was considered right that there 
should be), with a quiet mind to make people serve him and 
his art; but in our day, when in all men there is at least 
some dim perception of the equal rights of all, it is impos 
sible to constrain people to labour unwillingly for art, without 
first deciding the question whether it is true that art is so 
good and so important an affair as to redeem this evil. 

If not, we have the terrible probability to consider, that 
while fearful sacrifices of the labour and lives of men, and 
of morality itself, are being made to art, that same art may 
be not only useless but even harmful. 


And therefore it is necessary for a society in which works 
of art arise and are supported, to find out whether all that 
professes to be art is really art ; whether (as is presupposed 
in our society) all that which is art is good ; and whether 
it is important and worth those sacrifices which it necessi 
tates. It is still more necessary for every conscientious 
artist to know this, that he may be sure that all he does 
has a valid meaning ; that it is not merely an infatuation 
of the small circle of people among whom he lives which 
excites in him the false assurance that he is doing a good 
work ; and that what he takes fM>m others for the support 
of his often very luxurious life, will be compensated for by 
those productions at which he works. And that is why 
answers to the above questions are especially important in 
our time. 

What is this art, whi< h is considered so important and 
necessary for humanity that for its sake these sacrifices of 
labour, of human life, and even of goodness may be made 1 

"What is art? What a question! Art is architecture, 
sculpture, painting, music, and poetry in all its forms," 
usually replies the ordinary man, the art amateur, or even 
the artist himself, imagining the matter about which he is 
talking to be perfectly clear, and uniformly understood by 
everybody. But in architecture, one inquires further, 
are there not simple buildings which are not objects of 
art, and buildings with artistic pretensions which are un 
successful and ugly and therefore cannot be considered as 
works of art 1 wherein lies the characteristic sign of a work 
of art ? 

It is the same in sculpture, in music, and in poetry. Art, 
in all its forms, is bounded on one side by the practically 
useful and on the other by unsuccessful attempts at art. 
How is art to be marked off from each of these 1 ? The 
ordinary educated man of our circle, and even the artist 
who has not occupied himself especially with aesthetics, 


will not hesitate at this question either. He thinks the 
solution has been found long ago, and is well known to 

"Art is such activity as produces beauty," says such a 

If art consists in that, then is a ballet or an operetta 
art 1 ? you inquire. 

"Yes," says the ordinary man, though Avith some hesita 
tion, "a good ballet or a graceful operetta is also art, in so 
far as it manifests beauty." 

But without even asking the ordinary man what differen 
tiates the "good" ballet and the "graceful" operetta from 
their opposites (a question he would have much difficulty 
in answering), if you ask him whether the activity of cos 
tumiers and hairdressers, who ornament the figures and faces 
of the women for the ballet and the operetta, is art ; or the 
activity of Worth, the dressmaker ; of scent-makers and men- 
cooks, then he will, in most cases, deny that their activity 
belongs to the sphere of art. But in this the ordinary man 
makes a mistake, just because he is an ordinary man and not 
a specialist, and because he has not occupied himself with 
aesthetic questions. Had he looked into these matters, he 
would have seen in the great Kenan s book, Marc, Aurele, 
a dissertation showing that the tailor s work is art, and that 
those who do not see in the adornment of woman an affair 
of the highest art are very small-minded and dull. " C est le 
grand art," says Kenan. Moreover, he would have known 
that in many aesthetic systems for instance, in the aesthetics 
of the learned Professor Kralik, Weltschonheit, Versuch 
einer allgemeinen ^Esthetik, von Richard Kralik, and in Les 
problemes de V Esthetique Contemporaine, by Guyau the arts 
of costume, of taste, and of touch are included. 

" Es Folgt nun ein Funfblatt von Kunsten, die der subjeo- 
tiven Sinnlichkeit entkeimen "(There results then a pentafoliate 
of arts, growing out of the subjective perceptions), says 


Kralik (p. 175). " Sie sind die dstlietische Behandlung 
der fiinf Sinne" (They are the aesthetic treatment of the 
five senses.) 

These five arts are the following : 

Die Kunst des Geschmacksinns The art of the sense of 
taste (p. 175). 

Die Kunst des Geruchsinns The art of the sense of smell 
(p. 177). 

Die Kunst des Tastsinns The art of the sense of touch 
(p. 180). 

Die Kiuist des Gehursinns Th^ art of the sense of hear- 
ing (p. 182). 

Die Kunst des Gesichtsinns The art of the sense of sight 
(p. 184). 

Of the first of these die Kunst des Geschmacksinns he 
says : " Man halt zwar gewohnlich nur zwei oder hochstens 
drei Sinne fur wiirdig, den Stoff kunstlerischer Behandlung 
dbzugeben, aber ich glaube nur mit bedingtem Recht. Ich 
will kein allzugrosses Gewicht darauf legen, dass der gemeine 
Sprachgebrauch manch andere Kiinste, wie zum Beispiel die 
Kochkunst kennt." 1 

And further : " Und es ist doch gewiss eine dsthetische 
Leistung, wenn es der Kochkunst gelingt aus einem thierischen 
Kadaver einen Gegenstand des Geschmacks injedem Sinne zu 
machen. Der Grundsatz der Kunst des Geschmacksinns (die 
weiter ist als die sogenannte Kochkunst} ist also dieser : Es 
soil alles Geniessbare als Sinnbild einer Idee behandelt werden 
und in jedesmaligem Einklang zur auszudrilckenden Idee." 2 

1 Only two, or at most three, senses are generally held worthy to 
supply matter for artistic treatment, but I think this opinion is only 
conditionally correct. I will not lay too much stress on the fact that 
our common speech recognises many other arts, as, for instance, the 
art of cookery. 

2 And yet it is certainly an aesthetic achievement when the art of 
cooking succeeds in making of an animal s corpse an object in all re- 


This author, like Kenan, acknowledges a Kostilmkunst 
(Art of Costume) (p. 200), etc. 

Such is also the opinion of the French writer, Guyau, 
who is highly esteemed by some authors of our day. In 
his book, Les problemes de Vesthetique contemporaine, he 
speaks seriously of touch, taste, and smell as giving, or being 
capable of giving, aesthetic impressions : " Si la couleur 
manque au toucher, il nous fournit en revanche une notion 
que seul ne peut nous donner, et qui a une valeur 
esthetique considerable, celle du doux, du soyeux du poll. 
Ce qui caracterise la beaute du velours, c est sa douceur au 
toucher non mains que son brillant. Dans Videe que nous 
nous faisons de la beaute d une femme, le veloute de sa peau 
entre comme clement essentiel" 

" Cliacun de nous probablement avec un peu d attention se 
rappellera des jouissances du gout, qui out etc de veritables 
jouissances esthetiques." x And he recounts how a glass of 
milk drunk by him in the mountains gave him aesthetic 

So it turns out that the conception of art as consisting 
in making beauty manifest is not at all so simple as it seemed, 
especially now, when in this conception of beauty are 
included our sensations of touch and taste and smell, as 
they are by the latest aesthetic writers. 

spects tasteful. The principle of the Art of Taste (wliicli goes beyond 
the so-called Art of Cookery) is therefore this : All that is eatable 
should be treated as the symbol of some Idea, and always in harmony 
with the Idea to be expressed. 

1 If the sense of touch lacks colour, it gives us, on the other hand, 
a notion which the eye alone cannot afford, and one of considerable 
esthetic value, namely, that of softness, silkiness, polish. The beauty 
of velvet is characterised not less by its softness to the touch than by 
its lustre. In the idea we form of a woman s beauty, the softness of 
her skin enters as an essential element. 

Each of us probably, with a little attention, can recall pleasures of 
taste which have been real aesthetic pleasures. 


But the ordinary man either does not know, or does not 
wish to know, all this, and is firmly convinced that all 
questions about art may be simply and clearly solved by 
acknowledging beauty to be the subject-matter of art. To 
him it seems clear and comprehensible that art consists in 
manifesting beauty, and that a reference to beauty will 
serve to explain all questions about art. 

But what is this beauty which forms the subject-matter 
of art 1 How is it defined 1 What is it ? 

As is always the case, the more cloudy and confused the 
conception conveyed by a word, with the more aplomb and 
self-assurance do people use that word, pretending that 
what is understood by it is so simple and clear that it is 
not worth while even to discuss what it actually 

This is how matters of orthodox religion are usually dealt 
with, and this is how people now deal with the conception 
of beauty. It is taken for granted that what is meant by 
the word beauty is known and understood by everyone. 
And yet not only is this not known, but, after whole 
.mountains of books have been written on the subject by the 
most learned and profound thinkers during one hundred 
and fifty years (ever since Baumgarten founded aesthetics in 
the year 1750), the question, What is beauty 1 ? remains to 
this day quite unsolved, and in each new work on aesthetics 
it is answered in a new way. One of the last books I 
read on aesthetics is a not ill-written booklet by Julius 
Mithalter, called Rdtsel des Schonen (The Enigma of the 
Beautiful). And that title precisely expresses the position 
of the question, What is beauty 1 After thousands of 
learned men have discussed it during one hundred and fifty 
years, the meaning of the word beauty remains an enigma 
still. The Germans answer the question in their manner, 
though in a hundred different ways. The physiologist- 
.sestheticians, especially the Englishmen : Herbert Spencer, 

WHAT IS ART? % 15 

Grant Allen and his school, answer it, each in his own 
way ; the French eclectics, and the followers of Guyau and 
Taine, also each in his own way ; and all these people know 
all the preceding solutions given by Baumgarten, and Kant, 
and Schelling, and Schiller, and Fichte, and Winckelmann, 
and Lessing, and Hegel, and Schopenhauer, and Hartmann, 
and Schasler, and Cousin, and Leveque and others. 

What is this strange conception " beauty," which seems so 
simple to those who talk without thinking, but in denning 
which all the philosophers of various tendencies and different 
nationalities can come to no agreement during a century and 
a half ? What is this conception of beauty, on which the 
dominant doctrine of art rests 1 

In Russian, by the word krasota (beauty) we mean only 
that which pleases the sight. And though latterly people 
have begun to speak of "an ugly deed," or of "beautiful 
music," it is not good Russian. 

A Russian of the common folk, not knowing foreign 
languages, will not understand you if you tell him that a 
man who has given his last coat to another, or done any 
thing similar, has acted " beautifully," that a man who has 
cheated another has done an " ugly " action, or that a song 
is "beautiful." 

In Russian a deed may be kind and good, or unkind and 
bad. Music may be pleasant and good, or unpleasant and 
bad; but there can be no such thing as "beautiful" or 
"ugly " music. 

Beautiful may relate to a man, a horse, a house, a view, 
or a movement. Of actions, thoughts, character, or music, 
if they please us, we may say that they are good, or, if they 
do not please us, that they are not good. But beautiful 
can be used only concerning that which pleases the sight. 
So that the word and conception "good" includes the 
conception of " beautiful," but the reverse is not the case ; 
the conception " beauty " does not include the concep- 


tion "good." If we say "good" of an article which, we 
value for its appearance, we thereby say that the article is 
beautiful; but if we say it is "beautiful," it does not at 
all mean that the article is a good one, 

Such is the meaning ascribed by the Eussian language, 
and therefore by the sense of the people, to the words and 
conceptions "good" and "beautiful." 

In all the European languages, i.e. the languages of those 
nations among whom the doctrine has spread that beauty is 
the essential thing in art, the words "beau," "schon," 
"beautiful," "bello," etc., while keeping their meaning of 
beautiful in form, have come to also express "goodness," 
"kindness," i.e. have come to act as substitutes for the 
word "good." 

So that it has become quite natural in those languages to 
use such expressions as " belle ame," "schone Gedanken," of 
"beautiful deed." Those languages no longer have a 
suitable word wherewith expressly to indicate beauty of 
form, and have to use a combination of words such as 
"beau par la forme," "beautiful to look at," etc., to convey 
that idea. 

Observation of the divergent meanings which the words 
" beauty " and " beautiful " have in Eussian on the one hand, 
and in those European languages now permeated by this 
aesthetic theory on the other hand, shows us that the word 
" beauty " has, among the latter, acquired a special meaning, 
namely, that of "good." 

What is remarkable, moreover, is that since we Eussians 
have begun more and more to adopt the European view of 
art, the same evolution has begun to show itself in our 
language also, and some people speak and write quite 
confidently, and without causing surprise, of beautiful music 
and ugly actions, or even thoughts ; whereas forty years ago, 
when I was young, the expressions " beautiful music " and 
" ugly actions " were not only unusual but incomprehensible. 


Evidently this new meaning given to beauty by European 
thought begins to be assimilated by Russian society. 

And what really is this meaning 1 What is this " beauty " 
as it is understood by the European peoples ? 

In order to answer this question, I must here quote at 
least a small selection of those definitions of beauty most 
generally adopted in existing aesthetic systems. I especially 
beg the reader not to be overcome by dulness, but to read 
these extracts through, or, still better, to read some one of 
the erudite aesthetic authors. ^N"ot to mention the voluminous 
German sestheticians, a very good book for this purpose 
would be either the German book by Kralik, the English work 
by Knight, or the French one by Leveque. It is necessary to 
read one of the learned aesthetic writers irl order to form at 
first-hand a conception of the variety in opinion and the 
frightful obscurity which reigns in this region of specula 
tion; not, in this important matter, trusting to another s 

This, for instance, is what the German aesthetician 
Schasler says in the preface to his famous, voluminous, 
and detailed work on aesthetics : 

"Hardly in any sphere of philosophic science can we 
find such divergent methods of investigation and exposition, 
amounting even to self-contradiction, as in the sphere of 
aesthetics. On the one hand we have elegant phraseology 
without any substance, characterised in great part by most 
one-sided superficiality; and on the other hand, accompany 
ing undeniable profundity of investigation and richness of 
subject-matter, we get a revolting awkwardness of philosophic 
terminology, enfolding the simplest thoughts in an apparel 
of abstract science as though to render them worthy to 
enter the consecrated palace of the system ; and finally^ 
between these two methods of investigation and exposition, 
there is a third, forming, as it were, the transition from one 
to the other, a method consisting of eclecticism, now flaunt 



ing an elegant phraseology and now a pedantic erudition. . . . 
A style of exposition that falls into none of these three 
defects but it is truly concrete, and, having important matter, 
expresses it in clear and popular philosophic language, can 
nowhere be found less frequently than in the domain of 
aesthetics." l 

It is only necessary, for instance, to read Schasler s own 
book to convince oneself of the justice of this observation of 

On the same subject the French writer Yeron, in the 
preface to his very good work on aesthetics, says, " 12 n y a pas 
de science, qui ait eteplus que Vestlietique livree aux reveries des 
metapJiysiciens. Depuis Platonjusqu aux doctrines officielles 
de nos jours, on a fait de I art je ne sais quel amalyame de 
fantaisies quintessences, et de mysteres transcendantaux qui 
trouvent lew expression supreme dans la conception absolue dn 
Beau ideal, prototype immuable et divin des choses reelles " 
(L esthetique, 1878, p. 5). 2 

If the reader will only be at the pains to peruse the 
following extracts, defining beauty, taken from the chief 
writers on aesthetics, he may convince himself that this 
censure is thoroughly deserved. 

X" I shall not quote the definitions of beauty attributed to 

/ the ancients, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, etc., down to 

Plotinus, because, in reality, the ancients had not that 

conception of beauty separated from goodness which forms 

\ the basis and aim of aesthetics in our time. By referring the 

1 M. Schasler, Kritische Geschichte der Aesthetik, 1872, vol. i. 
p. 13. 

2 There is no science which more than aesthetics has been handed 
over to the reveries of the metaphysicians. From Plato down to the 
received doctrines of our day, people have made of art a strange 
amalgam of quintessential fancies and transcendental mysteries, which 
find their supreme expression in the conception of an absolute ideal 
Beauty, immutable and divine prototype of actual things. 


/ judgments of the ancients on beauty to our conception of it, 
as is usually done in aesthetics, we give the words of the 
I ancients a meaning which is not theirs. 1 

1 See on this matter Benard s admirable book, L esthe tique 
d Aristote, also Walter s Geschichte der Aesthetik im Altertum. 


I BEGIN with the founder of aesthetics, Baumgarten (1714 

According to Baumgarten, 1 the object of logical knowledge 
is Truth, the object of aesthetic (i.e. sensuous) knowledge 
is Beauty. Beauty is the Perfect (the Absolute), recog 
nised through the senses ; Truth is -the Perfect perceived 
through reason ; Goodness is the Perfect reached by moral 

Beauty is denned by Baumgarten as a correspondence, i.e. 
an order of the parts in their mutual relations to each 
other and in their relation to the whole. The aim of beauty 
itself is to please and excite a desire, " Wohlgef alien und 
Erregung eines Verlangens." (A position precisely the opposite 
of Kant s definition of the nature and sign of beauty.) 

With reference to the manifestations of beauty, Baum 
garten considers that the highest embodiment of beauty 
is seen by us in nature, and he therefore thinks that the 
highest aim of art is to copy nature. (This position 
also is directly contradicted by the conclusions of the 
latest aestheticians.) 

Passing over the unimportant followers of Baumgarten, 
Maier, Eschenburg, and Eberhard, who only slightly 
modified the doctrine of their teacher by dividing the 
pleasant from the beautiful, I will quote the definitions 
given by writers who came immediately after Baumgarten, 
and defined beauty quite in another way. These writers 
1 Schasler, p. 361. 


were Sulzer, Mendelssohn, and Moritz. They, in con 
tradiction to Baurngarten s main position, recognise as the 
aim of art, not beauty, but goodness. Thus Sulzer 
(1720-1777) says that only that can be considered beautiful 
which contains goodness. According to his theory, the aim 
of the whole life of humanity is welfare in social life. This 
is attained by the education of the moral feelings, to 
which end art should be subservient. Beauty is that 
which evokes and educates this feeling. 

Beauty is understood almost in the same way by 
Mendelssohn (1729-1786). According to him, art is the 
carrying forward of the beautiful, obscurely recognised by 
feeling, till it becomes the true and good. The aim of art 
is moral perfection. 1 

For the aestheticians of this school, the ideal of beauty 
is a beautiful soul in a beautiful body. So that these 
aestheticians completely wipe out Baumgarten s division of 
the Perfect (the Absolute), into the three forms of Truth, 
Goodness, and Beauty ; and Beauty is again united with the 
Good and the True. 

But this conception is not only not maintained by the later 
aestheticians, but the aesthetic doctrine of Winckelmann 
arises, again in complete opposition. This divides the mission 
of art from the aim of goodness in the sharpest and most 
positive manner, makes external beauty the aim of art, and 
even limits it to visible beauty. 

According to the celebrated work of Winckelmann (1717- 
1767), the law and aim of all art is beauty only, beauty 
quite separated from and independent of goodness. There 
are three kinds of beauty : (1) beauty of form, (2) beauty 
of idea, expressing itself in the position of the figure (in 
plastic art), (3) beauty of expression, attainable only when 
the two first conditions are present. This beauty of ex 
pression is the highest aim of art, and is attained in 
3 Schasler, p. 369. 


antique art ; modern art should therefore aim at imitating 
ancient art. 1 

Art is similarly understood by Lessing, Herder, and after 
wards by Goethe and by all the distinguished sestheticians 
of Germany till Kant, from whose day, again, a different 
conception of art commences. 

Native aesthetic theories arose during this period in 
England, France, Italy, and Holland, and they, though not 
taken from the German, were equally cloudy and contra 
dictory. And all these writers, just like the German 
aestheticians, founded their theories on a conception of the 
Beautiful, understanding beauty in the sense of a something 
existing absolutely, and mure or less intermingled with 
Goodness or having one arid the same root. In England, 
almost simultaneously with Baumgarten, even a little earlier, 
Shaftesbury, Hutcheson, Home, Burke, Hogarth, and others, 
wrote on art. 

According to Shaftesbury (1670-1713), "That which is 
beautiful is harmonious and proportionable, what is har 
monious and proportionable is true, and what is at once 
both beautiful and true is of consequence agreeable and 
good." - Beauty, he taught, is recognised by the mind only. 
God is fundamental beauty; beauty and goodness proceed 
from the same fount. 

So that, although Shaftesbury regards beauty as being 
something separate from goodness, they again merge into 
something inseparable. 

According to Hutcheson (1694-1747 "Inquiry into the 
Original of our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue"), the aim of 
art is beauty, the essence of which consists in evoking in us 
the perception of uniformity amid variety. In the recogni 
tion of what is art we are guided by " an internal sense." 
This internal sense may be in contradiction to the ethical 

1 Scliasler, pp. 388-390. 

" Knight, Philosophy of the Beautiful, i. pp. 165, 166. 


one. So that, according to Hutcheson, beauty does not 
always correspond with goodness, but separates from it and 
is sometimes contrary to it. 1 

According to Home, Lord Kames (1696-1782), beauty is 
that which is pleasant. Therefore beauty is denned by taste 
alone. The standard of true taste is that the maximum of 
richness, fulness, strength, and variety of impression should 
be contained in the narrowest limits. That is the ideal of 
a perfect work of art. 

According to Burke (1729-1797 "Philosophical Inquiry 
into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful "), 
the sublime and beautiful, which are the aim of art, have 
their origin in the promptings of self-preservation and of 
society. These feelings, examined in their source, are means 
for the maintenance of the race through the individual. The 
first (self-preservation) is attained by nourishment, defence, 
and war ; the second (society) by intercourse and propagation. 
Therefore self-defence, and war, which is bound up with it, 
is the source of the sublime ; sociability, and the sex-instinct, 
which is bound up with it, is the source of beauty. 2 

Such were the chief English definitions of art and beauty 
in the eighteenth century. 

During that period, in France, the writers on art were Pere 
Andr6 and Batteux, with Diderot, D Alembert, and, to some 
extent, Voltaire, following later. 

According to Pere Andre (" Essai sur le Beau," 1741), there 
are three kinds of beauty divine beauty, natural beauty, 
and artificial beauty. 3 

According to Batteux (1713-1780), art consists in 
imitating the beauty of nature, its aim being enjoyment. 4 
Such is also Diderot s definition of art. 

1 Schasler, p. 289. Knight, pp. 168, 169. 

2 R. Kralik, Weltschonheit, Versuch ewier allgemeinen Aesthetik, 
pp. 304-306. 

3 Knight, p. 101. 4 Schlaser, p. 316. 


The French writers, like the English, consider that it is taste 
that decides what is beautiful. And the laws of taste are not 
only riot laid down, but it is granted that they cannot be settled. 
The same view was held by D Alembert and Voltaire. 1 

According to the Italian aesthetician of that period, Pagano, 
art consists in uniting the beauties dispersed in nature. 
The capacity to perceive these beauties is taste, the capacity 
to bring them into one whole is artistic genius. Beauty 
commingles with goodness, so that beauty is goodness made 
visible, and goodness is inner beauty. 2 

According to the opinion of other Italians : Muratori (1672 
1750), " Riflessioni sopra il buon gusto intorno le science e 
le arti," and especially Spaletti, 3 " Saggio sopra la bettezza" 
(1765), art amounts to an egotistical sensation, founded (as 
with Burke) on the desire for self-preservation and society. 

Among Dutch writers, Hemsterhuis (1720-1790), who 
had an influence on the German sestheticians and on Goethe, 
is remarkable. According to him, beauty is that which gives 
most pleasure, and that gives most pleasure which gives us 
the greatest number of ideas in the shortest time. Enjoy 
ment of the beautiful, because it gives the greatest quantity 
of perceptions in the shortest time, is the highest notion to 
which man can attain. 4 

Such were the aesthetic theories outside Germany during the 
last century. In Germany, after Winckelmann, there again 
arose a completely new aesthetic theory, that of Kant (1724- 
1804), which more than all others clears up what this con 
ception of beauty, and consequently of art, really amounts to. 

The aesthetic teaching of Kant is founded as follows : 
Man has a knowledge of nature outside him and of himself 
in nature. In nature, outside himself, he seeks for truth ; 
in himself he seeks for goodness. The first is an affair of 
pure reason, the other of practical reason (free-will). Besides 

1 Knight, pp. 102-104. 2 R. Kralik, p. 124. 

3 Spaletti, Schasler, p. 328. 4 Schasler, pp. 331-333. 


these two means of perception, there is yet the judging 
capacity (Urteilskraft), which forms judgments without 
reasonings and produces pleasure without desire (Urtheil 
ohne Begriff und Vergniigen ohne JBegehren). This capacity 
is the basis of aesthetic feeling. Beauty, according to Kant, 
in its subjective meaning is that which, in general and 
necessarily, without reasonings and without practical 
advantage, pleases. In its objective meaning it is the form 
of a suitable object in so far as that object is perceived 
without any conception of its utility. 1 

Beauty is defined in the same way by the followers of 
Kant, among whom was Schiller (1759-1805). According 
to Schiller, who wrote much on aesthetics, the aim of art is, 
as with Kant, beauty, the source of which is pleasure with 
out practical advantage. So that art may be called a game, 
not in the sense of an unimportant occupation, but in the 
sense of a manifestation of the beauties of life itself without 
other aim than that of beauty. 2 

Besides Schiller, the most remarkable of Kant s followers 
in the sphere of aesthetics was Wilhelm Humboldt, who, 
though he added nothing to the definition of beauty, explained 
various forms of it, the drama, music, the comic, etc. 3 

After Kant, besides the second-rate philosophers, the 
writers on aesthetics were Fichte, Schelling, Hegel, and their 
followers. Fichte (1762-1814) says that perception of the 
beautiful proceeds from this : the world i.e. nature has 
two sides : it is the sum of our limitations, and it is the 
sum of our free idealistic activity. In the first aspect the 
world is limited, in the second aspect it is free. In the first 
aspect every object is limited, distorted, compressed, confined 
and we see deformity ; in the second we perceive its inner 
completeness, vitality, regeneration and we see beauty. So 
that the deformity or beauty of an object, according to 

1 Schasler, pp. 525-528. 2 Knight, pp. 61-63. 

3 Schasler, pp. 740-743. 


Fichte, depends on the point of view of the observer. 
Beauty therefore exists, not in the world, but in the beautiful 
soul (schoner Geist). Art is the manifestation of this 
beautiful soul, and its aim is the education, not only of the 
mind that is the business of the savant not only of the 
heart that is the affair of the moral preacher ; but of the 
whole man. And so the characteristic of beauty lies, not 
in anything external, but in the presence of a beautiful soul 
in the artist. 1 

Following Fichte, and in the same direction, Friedrich 
Schlegel and Adam Miiller also denned beauty. According 
to Schlegel (1772-1829), beauty in art is understood too 
incompletely, one-sidedly, and disconnectedly. Beauty exists 
not only in art, but also in nature and in love ; so that the 
truly beautiful is expressed by the union of art, nature, and 
love. Therefore, as inseparably one with aesthetic art, 
Schlegel acknowledges moral and philosophic art.- 

According to Adam Miiller (1779-1829), there are two 
kinds of beauty ; the one, general beauty, which attracts 
people as the sun attracts the planet this is found chiefly in 
antique art and the other, individual beauty, which results 
from the observer himself becoming a sun attracting beauty, 
this is the beauty of modern art. A world in which all 
contradictions are harmonised is the highest beauty. Every 
work of art is a reproduction of this universal harmony. 3 
The highest art is the art of life. 4 

!N"ext after Fichte and his followers came a contemporary 
of his, the philosopher Schelling (1775-1854), who has had 
a great influence on the aesthetic conceptions of our times. 
According to Schilling s philosophy, art is the production 
or result of that conception of things by which the subject 
becomes its own object, or the object its own subject. 
Beauty is the perception of the infinite in the finite. And 

1 Schasler, pp. 769-771. " Schasler, pp. 786, 787. 

3 Kralik, p. 148. 4 Kralik, p. 820. 


the chief characteristic of works of art is unconscious infinity. 
Art is the uniting of the subjective with the objective, of 
nature with reason, of the unconscious with the conscious, 
and therefore art is the highest means of knowledge. 
Beauty is the contemplation of things in themselves as they 
exist in the prototype (In den Urbildern). It is not the 
artist who by his knowledge or skill produces the beautiful, 
but the idea of beauty in him itself produces it. 1 

Of Schelling s followers the most noticeable was Solger 
( 1 780-1 819 Vorlesungen iiber Aesthetik). According to him^ 
the idea of beauty is the fundamental idea of everything. 
In the world we see only distortions of the fundamental 
idea, but art, by imagination, may lift itself to the height of 
this idea. Art is therefore akin to creation. 2 

According to another follower of Schelling, Krause 
(1781-1832), true, positive beauty is the manifestation of the 
Idea in an individual form ; art is the actualisation of the 
beauty existing in the sphere of man s free spirit. The 
highest stage of art is the art of life, which directs its activity 
towards the adornment of life so that it may be a beautiful 
abode for a beautiful man. 3 

After Schelling and his followers came the new aesthetic 
doctrine of Hegel, which is held to this day, consciously by 
many, but by the majority unconsciously. This teaching is 
not only no clearer or better defined than the preceding 
ones, but is, if possible, even more cloudy and mystical. 

According to Hegel (1770-1831), God manifests himself 
in nature and in art in the form of beauty. God expresses 
himself in two ways : in the object and in the subject, in 
nature and in spirit. Beauty is the shining of the Idea 
through matter. Only the soul, and what pertains to 
it, is truly beautiful ; and therefore the beauty of nature is 
only the reflection of the natural beauty of the spirit the 

1 Schasler, pp. 828, 829, 834-841. 2 Scliasler, p. 891. 

3 Schasler, p. 917. 


beautiful has only a spiritual content. But the spiritual 
must appear in sensuous form. The sensuous manifestation 
of spirit is only appearance (schein), and this appearance 
is the only reality of the beautiful. Art is thus the production 
of this appearance of the Idea, and is a means, together with 
religion and philosophy, of bringing to consciousness and 
of expressing the deepest problems of humanity and the 
highest truths of the spirit. 

Truth and beauty, according to Hegel, are one and the 
same thing; the difference being only that truth is the 
Idea itself as it exists in itself, and is thinkable. The 
Idea, manifested externally, becomes to the apprehension 
not only true but beautiful. The beautiful is the mani 
festation of the Idea. 1 

Following Hegel came his many adherents, Weisse, 
Arnold Ruge, Rosenkrantz, Theodor Vischer and others. 

According to Weisse (1801-1867), art is the introduction 
(Eiribildung) of the absolute spiritual reality of beauty 
into external, dead, indifferent matter, the perception of 
which latter apart from the beauty brought into it pre 
sents the negation of all existence in itself (Negation alles 

In the idea of truth, Weisse explains, lies a contra 
diction between the subjective and the objective sides of 
knowledge, in that an individual / discerns the Universal. 
This contradiction can be removed by a conception that 
should unite into one the universal and the individual, which 
fall asunder in our conceptions of truth. Such a conception 
would be reconciled (aufgehoben) truth. Beauty is such a 
reconciled truth. 2 

According to Ruge (1802-1880), a strict follower of 
Hegel, beauty is the Idea expressing itself. The spirit, 
contemplating itself, either finds itself expressed completely, 

1 Schasler, pp. 946, 1085, 984, 985, 990. 

2 Schasler, pp. 966, 655, 956. 


and then that full expression of itself is beauty ; or incom 
pletely, and then it feels the need to alter this imperfect 
expression of itself, and becomes creative art. 1 

According to Yischer (1807-1887), beauty is the Idea in 
the form of a finite phenomenon. The Idea itself is not 
indivisible, but forms a system of ideas, which may be 
represented by ascending and descending lines. The 
higher the idea the more beauty it contains ; but even 
the lowest contains beauty, because it forms an essential 
link of the system. The highest form of the Idea is 
personality, and therefore the highest art is that which has 
for its subject-matter the highest personality. 2 

Such were the theories of the German aestheticians in the 
Hegelian direction, but they did not monopolise aesthetic 
dissertations. In Germany, side by side and simultaneously 
with the Hegelian theories, there appeared theories of 
beauty not only independent of Hegel s position (that 
beauty is the manifestation of the Idea), but directly con 
trary to this view, denying and ridiculing it. Such was 
the line taken by Herbart and, more particularly, by 

According to Herbart (1776-1841), there is not, and 
cannot be, any such thing as beauty existing in itself. 
What does exist is only our opinion, and it is necessary to 
find the base of this opinion (Asthetisches Elementar- 
urtlieil). Such bases are connected with our impressions. 
There are certain relations which we term beautiful ; 
and art consists in finding these relations, which 
are simultaneous in painting, the plastic art, and 
architecture, successive and simultaneous in music, 
and purely successive in poetry. In contradiction to the 
former sestheticians, Herbart holds that objects are often 
beautiful which express nothing at all, as, for instance, the 
rainbow, which is beautiful for its lines and colours, and 
1 Schasler, p. 1017. - Schasler, pp. 1065, 1066. 


not for its mythological connection with Iris or Noah s 
rainbow. 1 

Another opponent of Hegel was Schopenhauer, who 
denied Hegel s whole system, his aesthetics included. 

According to Schopenhauer (1788-1860), Will objectivizes 
itself in the world on various planes; and although the 
higher the plane on which it is objectivized the more 
beautiful it is, yet each plane has its own beauty. Re 
nunciation of one s individuality and contemplation of one 
of these planes of manifestation of Will gives us a per 
ception of beauty. All men, says Schopenhauer, possess 
the capacity to objectivize the Idea on different planes. 
The genius of the artist has this capacity in a higher degree, 
and therefore makes a higher beauty manifest. 2 

After these more eminent writers there followed, in 
Germany, less original and less influential ones, such as 
Hartmann, Kirkmann, Schnasse, and, to some extent, 
Helmholtz (as an sesthetician), Bergmann, Jungmann, and an 
innumerable host of others. 

According to Hartmann (1842), beauty lies, not in the 
external world, nor in " the thing in itself," neither does it 
reside in the soul of man, but it lies in the "seeming" 
(Schein) produced by the artist. The thing in itself is not 
beautiful, but is transformed into beauty by the artist. 8 

According to Schnasse (1798-1875), there is no perfect 
beauty in the world. In nature there is only an approach 
towards it. Art gives what nature cannot give. In the 
energy of the free ego, conscious of harmony not found in 
nature, beauty is disclosed. 4 

Kirkmann wrote on experimental aesthetics. All aspects 
of history in his system are joined by pure chance. Thus, 
according to Kirkmann (1802-1884), there are six realms 
of history : The realm of Knowledge, of Wealth, of 

1 Schasler, pp. 1097-1100, 2 Schasler, pp. 1124, 1107. 

3 Knight, pp. 81, 82. 4 Knight, p. 83. 


Morality, of Faith, of Politics, and of Beauty; and activity 
in the last-named realm is art. 1 

According to Helmholtz (1821), who wrote on beauty as 
it relates to music, beauty in musical productions is attained 
only by following unalterable laws. These laws are not 
known to the artist; so that beauty is manifested by the 
artist unconsciously, and cannot be subjected to analysis. 2 

According to Bergmann (1840) (Ueber das ScJione, 1887), 
to define beauty objectively is impossible. Beauty is only 
perceived subjectively, and therefore the problem of aesthetics 
is to define what pleases whom. 3 

According to Jungmann (d. 1885), firstly, beauty is a 
suprasensible quality of things ; secondly, beauty produces 
in us pleasure by merely being contemplated ; and, thirdly, 
beauty is the foundation of love. 4 

The aesthetic theories of the chief representatives of France, 
England, and other nations in recent times have been the 
following : 

In France, during this period, the prominent writers on 
aesthetics were Cousin, Jouffroy, Pictet, Eavaisson, Leveque. 

Cousin (1792-1867) was an eclectic, and a follower of the 
German idealists. According to his theory, beauty always 
has a moral foundation. He disputes the doctrine that art 
is imitation and that the beautiful is what pleases. He 
affirms that beauty may be defined objectively, and that it 
essentially consists in variety in unity. 5 

After Cousin came Jouffroy (1796-1842), who was a pupil 
of Cousin s and also a follower of the German sestheticians. 
According to his definition, beauty is the expression of the 
invisible by those natural signs which manifest it. The 
visible world is the garment by means of which we see beauty. 6 

The Swiss writer Pictet repeated Hegel and Plato, 

1 Schasler, p. 1121. 2 Knight, pp. 85, 86. 

3 Knight, p. 88. 4 Knight, p. 88. 

5 Knight, p. 112. 6 Knight, p. 316. 


supposing beauty to exist in the direct and free manifesta 
tion of the divine Idea revealing itself in sense forms. 1 

LeVeque was a follower of Schelling and Hegel. He 
holds that beauty is something invisible behind nature a 
force or spirit revealing itself in ordered energy. 2 

Similar vague opinions about the nature of beauty were 
expressed by the French metaphysician Kavaisson, who 
considered beauty to be the ultimate aim and purpose of the 
world. " La beaut e la plus divine et principalement la plus 
parfaite contient le secret du monde." 5 And again: " Le 
monde entier est Voeuvre d une beaute absolue, qui n est la 
cause des choses que par V amour qu elle met en elles." 

I purposely abstain from translating these metaphysical 
expressions, because, however cloudy the Germans may be, 
the French, once they absorb the theories of the Germans 
and take to imitating them, far surpass them in uniting 
heterogeneous conceptions into one expression, and putting 
forward one meaning or another indiscriminately. For 
instance, the French philosopher Renouvier, when discussing 
beauty, says: " Ne craignons pas de dire qu une verite qui 
ne serait pas belle, ne serait qu un jeu logique de notre esprit 
et que la seule verite solide et digne de ce nom c est la beaute. " 4 

Besides the aesthetic idealists who wrote and still write 
under the influence of German philosophy, the following 
recent writers have also influenced the comprehension of art 
and beauty in France : Taine, Guyau, Cherbuliez, Coster, 
and Veron. 

According to Taine (1828-1893), beauty is the manifesta 
tion of the essential characteristic of any important idea 
more completely than it is expressed in reality. 5 

Guyau (1854-1888) taught that beauty is not something 
exterior to the object itself, is not, as it were, a parasitic 

1 Knight, pp. 118, 119. 2 Knight, pp. 123, 124. 

3 La philosophie en France, p. 232. 4 Du fondement de I induction. 

5 Philosophic de Part, vol. i. 1893, p. 47. 


growth on it, but is itself the very blossoming forth of that 
on which it appears. Art is the expression of reasonable and 
conscious life, evoking in us both the deepest consciousness 
of existence and the highest feelings and loftiest thoughts. 
Art lifts man from his personal life into the universal life, 
by means, not only of participation in the same ideas and 
beliefs, but also by means of similarity in feeling. 1 

According to Cherbuliez, art is an activity, (1) satisfying 
our innate love of forms (apparences), (2) endowing these 
forms with ideas, (3) affording pleasure alike to our senses, 
heart, and reason. Beauty is not inherent in objects, but is 
an act of our souls. Eeauty is an illusion; there is no 
absolute beauty. But what we consider characteristic and 
harmonious appears beautiful to us. 

Coster held that the ideas of the beautiful, the good, and 
the true are innate. These ideas illuminate our minds and 
are identical with God, who is Goodness, Truth, and Beauty. 
The idea of Beauty includes unity of essence, variety of 
constitutive elements, and order, which brings unity into 
the various manifestations of life. 2 

For the sake of completeness, I will further cite some of 
the very latest writings upon art. 

La psychologie du Beau et de I Art, par Mario Pilo (1895), 
says that beauty is a product of our physical feelings. The 
aim of art is pleasure, but this pleasure (for some reason) he 
considers to be necessarily highly moral. 

The Essai sur Tart contemporain, par Fierens Gevaert 
(1897), says that art rests on its connection with the past, 
and on the religious ideal of the present which the artist 
holds when giving to his work the form of his individuality. 

Then again, Sar Peladan s L art idealiste et mystique (1894) 
?ays that beauty is one of the manifestations of God. " II riy 
a pas d autre Realiti que Dim, it riy a pas d autre Verite 
qua Dieu, il riy a pas d autre Beaute, que Dieu " (p. 33). 
1 Knight, p. 139-141. 2 Knight, pp. 134. 



This book is very fantastic and very illiterate, but is 
characteristic in the positions it takes up, and noticeable on 
account of a certain success it is having with the younger 
generation in France. 

All the aesthetics diffused in France up to the present time 
are similar in kind, but among them Veion sL esthetique (1878) 
forms an exception, being reasonable and clear. That work, 
though it does not give an exact definition of art, at least 
rids aesthetics of the cloudy conception of an absolute beauty, 

According to Yeron (1825-1889), art is the manifestation 
of emotion transmitted externally by a combination of lines, 
forms, colours, or by a succession of movements, sounds, or 
words subjected to certain rhythms. 1 

In England, during this period, the writers on aesthetics 
define beauty more and more frequently, not by its own 
qualities, but by taste, and the discussion about beauty is 
superseded by a discussion on taste. 

After Reid (1704-1796), who acknowledged beauty as 
being entirely dependent on the spectator, Alison, in "his 
Essay on the Nature and Principles of Taste (1790), proved 
the same thing. From another side this was also asserted 
by Erasmus Darwin (1731-1802), the grandfather of the 
celebrated Charles Darwin. 

He says that we consider beautiful that which is con 
nected in our conception with what we love. Richard 
Knight s work, An Analytical Inquiry into the Principles of 
Taste, also tends in the same direction. 

Most of the English theories of aesthetics are on the same 
lines. The prominent writers on aesthetics in England 
during the present century have been Charles Darwin, (to 
some extent), Herbert Spencer, Grant Allen, Ker, and 

According to Charles Darwin (1809-1882 Descent of 
Man, 1871), beauty is a feeling natural not only to man 
1 L esthdtique, p. 106. 


but also to animals, and consequently to the ancestors of 
man. Birds adorn their nests and esteem beauty in their 
mates. Beauty has an influence on marriages. Beauty 
includes a variety of diverse conceptions. The origin of 
the art of music is the call of the males to the females. 1 

According to Herbert Spencer (b. 1820), the origin of 
art is play, a thought previously expressed by Schiller. In 
the lower animals all the energy of life is expended in life- 
maintenance and race-maintenance ; in man, however, there 
remains, after these needs are satisfied, some superfluous 
strength. This excess is used in play, which passes over 
into art. Play is an imitation of real activity, so is art. 
The sources of esthetic pleasure are threefold : (1) That 
" which exercises the faculties affected in the most complete 
ways, with the fewest drawbacks from excess of exercise," 
(2) "the difference of a stimulus in large amount, which 
awakens a glow of agreeable feeling," (3) the partial revival 
of the same, with special combinations. 2 

In Todhunter s Theory of the Beautiful (1872), beauty is 
infinite loveliness, which we apprehend both by reason and 
by the enthusiasm of love. The recognition of beauty as 
being such depends on taste ; there can be no criterion for 
it. The only approach to a definition is found in culture. 
(What culture is, is not defined.) Intrinsically, art that 
which affects us through lines, colours, sounds, or words 
is not the product of blind forces, but of reasonable ones, 
working, with mutual helpfulness, towards a reasonable 
aim. Beauty is the reconciliation of contradictions. 3 

Grant Allen is a follower of Spencer, and in his 
Physiological ^Esthetics (1877) he says that beauty has a 
physical origin. ^Esthetic pleasures come from the con 
templation of the beautiful, but the conception of beauty is 
obtained by a physiological process. The origin of art is 

1 Knight, p. 238. " Knight, pp. 239, 240. 

3 Knight, pp. 240-243. 


play ; when there is a superfluity of physical strength man 
gives himself to play ; when there is a superfluity of receptive 
power man gives himself to art. The beautiful is that which 
affords the maximum of stimulation with the minimum of 
waste. Differences in the estimation of beauty proceed from 
taste. Taste can be educated. We must have faith in the 
judgments "of the finest-nurtured and most discriminative " 
men. These people form the taste of the next generation. 1 

According to Ker s Essay on the Philosophy of Art 
(1883), beauty enables us to make part of the objective 
world intelligible to ourselves without being troubled by 
reference to other parts of it, as is inevitable for science. 
So that art destroys the opposition between the one and 
the many, between the law and its manifestation, between 
the subject and its object, by uniting them. Art is the 
revelation and vindication of freedom, because it is free 
from the darkness and incomprehensibility of finite things. 2 

According to Knight s Philosophy of the Beautiful, 
Part II. (1893), beauty is (as with Schelling) the union of 
object and subject, the drawing forth from nature of that 
which is cognate to man, and the recognition in oneself of 
that which is common to all nature. 

The opinions on beauty and on Art here mentioned are far 
from exhausting what has been written on the subject. And 
every day fresh writers on aesthetics arise, in whose disquisi- 
tions appear the same enchanted confusion and contradictori- 
ness in defining beauty. Some, by inertia, continue the 
mystical aesthetics of Baumgarten and Hegel with sundry 
variations; others transfer the question to the region of 
subjectivity, and seek for the foundation of the beautiful in 
questions of taste ; others the aestheticians of the very latest 
formation seek the origin of beauty in the laws of physi- 
ology ; and finally, others again investigate the question 
quite independently of the conception of beauty. Thus, 
1 Knight, pp. 250-252. 2 Knight, pp. 258, 259. 


Sully in his Sensation and Intuition : Studies in Psychology 
and ^Esthetics (1874), dismisses the conception of beauty 
altogether, art, by his definition, being the production of 
some permanent object or passing action fitted to supply 
active enjoyment to the producer, and a pleasurable im 
pression to a number of spectators or listeners, quite apart 
from any personal advantage derived from it. 1 
1 Knight, p. 243. 


To what do these definitions of beauty amount? Xot 
reckoning the thoroughly inaccurate definitions of beauty 
which fail to cover the conception of art, and which suppose 
beauty to consist either in utility, or in adjustment to a 
purpose, or in symmetry, or in order, or in proportion, or in 
smoothness, or in harmony of the parts, or in unity amid 
variety, or in various combinations of these, not reckoning 
these unsatisfactory attempts at objective definition, all the 
aesthetic definitions of beauty lead to two fundamental 
conceptions. The first is that beauty is something having an 
independent existence (existing in itself), that it is one of 
the manifestations of the absolutely Perfect, of the Idea, of 
the Spirit, of Will, or of God ; the other is that beauty is 
a kind of pleasure received by us, not having personal 
advantage for its object. 

The first of these definitions was accepted by Fichte, 
Schelling, Hegel, Schopenhauer, and the philosophising 
Frenchmen, Cousin, Jouffroy, Ravaisson, and others, not to 
enumerate the second-rate aesthetic philosophers. And this 
same objective-mystical definition of beauty is held by a 
majority of the educated people of our day. It is a conception 
very widely spread, especially among the elder generation. 

The second view, that beauty is a certain kind of pleasure 
received by us, not having personal advantage for its aim, 
finds favour chiefly among the English aesthetic writers, and is 
shared by the other part of our society, principally by the 
younger generation. 


So there are (and it could not be otherwise) only two 
definitions of beauty : the one objective, mystical, merging 
this conception into that of the highest perfection, God a 
fantastic definition, founded on nothing ; the other, on the 
contrary, a very simple and intelligible subjective one, 
which considers beauty to be that which pleases (I do not 
add to the word " pleases " the words " without the aim of 
advantage," because "pleases" naturally presupposes the 
absence of the idea of profit). 

On the one hand, beauty is viewed as something mystical 
and very elevated, but unfortunately at the same time very 
indefinite, and consequently embracing philosophy, religion, 
and life itself (as in the theories of Schelling and Hegel, 
and their German and French followers) ; or, on the other 
hand (as necessarily follows from the definition of Kant and 
his adherents), beauty is simply a certain kind of disinterested 
pleasure received by us. And this conception of beauty, 
although it seems very clear, is, unfortunately, again inexact ; 
for it widens out on the other side, i.e. it includes the 
pleasure derived from drink, from food, from touching a 
delicate skin, etc., as is acknowledged by Guyau, Kralik, 
and others. 

It is true that, following the development of the aesthetic 
doctrines on beauty, we may notice that, though at first (in 
the times when the foundations of the science of aesthetics 
were being laid) the metaphysical definition of beauty 
prevailed, yet the nearer we get to our own times the 
more does an experimental definition (recently assuming a 
physiological form) come to the front, so that at last we 
even meet with such sestheticians as Veron and Sully, who try 
to escape entirely from the conception of beauty. But such 
aestheticians have very little success, and with the majority of 
the public, as well as of artists and the learned, a conception 
of beauty is firmly held which agrees with the definitions 
contained in most of the aesthetic treatises, i.e. which regards 


beauty either as something mystical or metaphysical, or as 
a special kind of enjoyment. 

What then is this conception of beauty, so stubbornly 
held to by people of our circle and day as furnishing a 
definition of art? 

In the subjective aspect, we call beauty that which 
supplies us with a particular kind of pleasure. 

In the objective aspect, we call beauty something 
absolutely perfect, and we acknowledge it to be so only 
because we receive, from the manifestation of this absolute 
perfection, a certain kind of pleasure ; so that this objective 
definition is nothing but the subjective conception differently 
expressed. In reality both conceptions of beauty amount 
to one and the same thing, namely, the reception by us of 
a certain kind of pleasure, i.e. we call "beauty" that which 
pleases us without evoking in us desire. 

Such being the position of affairs, it would seem only 
natural that the science of art should decline to content 
itself with a definition of art based on beauty (i.e. on that 
which pleases), arid seek a general definition, which should 
apply to all artistic productions, and by reference to which 
we might decide whether a certain article belonged to the 
realm of art or not. But no such definition is supplied, as 
the reader may see from those summaries of the aesthetic 
theories which I have given, and as he may discover even 
more clearly from the original aesthetic works, if he will be 
at the pains to read them. All attempts to define absolute 
beauty in itself whether as an imitation of nature, or as 
suitability to its object, or as a correspondence of parts, or as 
symmetry, or as harmony, or as unity in variety, etc. 
either define nothing at all, or define only some traits of 
some artistic productions, and are far from including all 
that everybody has always held, and still holds, to be art. 

There is no objective definition of beauty. The existing 
definitions, (both the metaphysical and the experimental), 


amount only to one and the same subjective definition which 
(strange as it seems to say so) is, that art is that which makes 
beauty manifest, and beauty is that which pleases (without 
exciting desire). Many aestheticians have felt the insufficiency 
and instability of such a definition, and, in order to give it 
a firm basis, have asked themselves Avhy a thing pleases. 
And they have converted the discussion on beauty into 
a question concerning taste, as did Hutcheson, Voltaire, 
Diderot, and others. But all attempts to define what taste 
is must lead to nothing, as the reader may see both from the 
history of aesthetics and experimentally. There is and can 
be no explanation of why one thing pleases one man and 
displeases another, or vice versa. So that the whole existing 
science of aesthetics fails to do what we might expect from 
it, being a mental activity calling itself a science, namely, 
it does not define the qualities and laws of art, or of the 
beautiful (if that be the content of art), or the nature of 
taste (if taste decides the question of art and its merit), and 
then, on the basis of such definitions, acknowledge as art 
those productions which correspond to these laws, and reject 
those which do not come under them. But this science of 
aesthetics consists in first acknowledging a certain set of 
productions to be art (because they please us), and then 
framing such a theory of art that all those productions which 
please a certainTcTi cle of people should fit into it. There 
exists an art canon, according to which certain productions 
favoured by our circle are acknowledged as being art, 
Phidias, Sophocles, Homer, Titian, Raphael, Bach, Beethoven, 
Dante, Shakespear, Goethe, and others, and the aesthetic 
laws must be such as to embrace all these productions. In 
aesthetic literature you will incessantly meet with opinions 
on the merit and importance of art, founded not on any 
certain laws by which this or that is held to be good or bad, 
but merely on the consideration whether this art tallies with 
the art canon we have drawn up. 


The other day I was reading a far from ill-written book 
by Folgeldt. Discussing the demand for morality in works 
of art, the author plainly says that we must not demand 
morality in art. And in proof of this he advances the fact 
that if we admit such a demand, Shakespear s Romeo and 
Juliet and Goethe s Wilhelm Meister would not fit into the 
definition of good art; but since both these books are 
included in our canon of art, he concludes that the demand is 
unjust. And therefore it is necessary to find a definition of 
art which shall fit the works ; and instead of a demand for 
morality, Folgeldt postulates as the basis of art a demand 
for the important (Bedeutungsvolles). 

All the existing aesthetic standards are built on this plan. 
Instead of giving a definition of true art, and then deciding 
what is and what is not good art by judging whether a 
work conforms or does not conform to the definition, a 
certain class of works, which for some reason please a certain 
circle of people, is accepted as being art, and a definition of 
art is then devised to cover all these productions. I recently 
came upon a remarkable instance of this method in a very 
good German work, The History of Art in the Nineteenth 
Century, by Muther. Describing the pre-Eaphaelites, the 
Decadents and the Symbolists (who are already included in 
the canon of art), he not only does not venture to blame 
their tendency, but earnestly endeavours to widen his 
standard so that it may include them all, they appearing to 
him to represent a legitimate reaction from the excesses of 
realism. No matter what insanities appear in art, when 
once they find acceptance among the upper classes of our 
society a theory is quickly invented to explain and sanction 
them ; just as if there had never been periods in history when 
certain special circles of people recognised and approved 
false, deformed, and insensate art which subsequently left 
no trace and has been utterly forgotten. And to what 
lengths the insanity and deformity of art may go, especially 


when, as in our days, it knows that it is considered infallible, 
may be seen by what is being done in the art of our circle 

So that the theory of art, founded on beauty, expounded 
by aesthetics, and, in dim outline, professed by the public, is 
nothing but the setting up as good, of that which has pleased 
and pleases us, i.e. pleases a certain class of people. 

In order to define any human activity, it is necessary to 
understand its sense and importance. And, in order to do 
that, it is primarily necessary to examine that activity in 
itself, in its dependence on its causes, and in connection 
with its effects, and not merely in relation to the pleasure 
we can get from it. 

If we say that the aim of any activity is merely our 
pleasure, and define it solely by that pleasure, our definition 
will evidently be a false one. But this is precisely what 
has occurred in the efforts to define art. Now, if we 
consider the food question, it will not occur to anyone to 
affirm that the importance of food consists in the pleasure 
we receive when eating it. Everyone understands that the 
satisfaction of our taste cannot serve as a basis for our 
definition of the merits of food, and that we have therefore 
no right to presuppose that the dinners with cayenne pepper, 
Limburg cheese, alcohol, etc., to which we are accustomed 
and which please us, form the very best human food. 

And in the same way, beauty, or that which pleases us, 
can in no sense serve as the basis for the definition of art ; 
nor can a series of objects which afford us pleasure serve as 
the model of what art should be. 

To see the aim and purpose of art in the pleasure we get 
from it, is like assuming (as is done by people of the lowest 
moral development, e.g. by savages) that the purpose and 
aim of food is the pleasure derived when consuming it. 

Just as people who conceive the aim and purpose of food 
to be pleasure cannot recognise the real meaning of eating, 


so people who consider the aim of art to be pleasure cannot 
realise its true meaning and purpose, because they attribute 
to an activity, the meaning of which lies in its connection 
with other phenomena of life, the false and exceptional aim 
of pleasure. People come to understand that the meaning 
of eating lies in the nourishment of the body only when 
they cease to consider that the object of that activity is 
pleasure. And it is the same with regard to art. People 
will come to understand the meaning of art only when they 
cease to consider that the aim of that activity is beauty, i.e. 
pleasure. The acknowledgment of beauty (i.e. of a certain 
kind of pleasure received from art) as being the aim of art, 
not only fails to assist us in finding a definition of what 
art is, but, on the contrary, by transferring the question 
into a region quite foreign to art (into metaphysical, 
psychological, physiological, and even historical discussions 
as to why such a production pleases one person, and such 
another displeases or pleases someone else), it renders such 
definition impossible. And since discussions as to why one 
man likes pears and another prefers meat do not help towards 
finding a definition of what is essential in nourishment, so 
the solution of questions of taste in art (to which the 
discussions on art involuntarily come) not only doos not 
help to make clear what this particular human activity 
which we call art really consists in, but renders such 
elucidation quite impossible, until we rid ourselves of a 
conception which justifies every kind of art, at the cost of 
confusing the whole matter. 

To the question, What is this art, to which is offered up 
the labour of millions, the very lives of men, and even 
morality itself ? we have extracted replies from the existing 
aesthetics, which all amount to this : that the aim of art is 
beauty, that beauty is recognised by the enjoyment it gives, 
and that artistic enjoyment is a good and important thing, 
because it is enjoyment. In a word, that enjoyment is good 


because it is enjoyment. Thus, what is considered the 
definition of art is no definition at all, but only a shuffle 
to justify existing art. Therefore, however strange it may 
seem to say so, in spite of the mountains of books written 
about art, no exact definition of art has been constructed. 
And the reason of this is that the conception of art has 
been based on the conception of beauty. 


WHAT is art, if we put aside the conception of beauty, 
which confuses the whole matter 1 The latest and most com 
prehensible definitions of art, apart from the conception of 
beauty, are the following : (1 a) Art is an activity arising 
even in the animal kingdom, and springing from sexual 
desire and the propensity to play (Schiller, Darwin, Spencer), 
and (1 b) accompanied by a pleasurable excitement of the 
nervous system (Grant Allen). This is the physiological- 
evolutionary definition. (2) Art is the external manifestation, 
by means of lines, colours, movements, sounds, or words, 
of emotions felt by man (V6ron). This is the experimental 
definition. According to the very latest definition (Sully), 
(3) Art is "the production of some permanent object, or 
passing action, which is fitted not only to supply an active 
enjoyment to the producer, but to convey a pleasurable 
impression to a number of spectators or listeners, quite apart 
from any personal advantage to be derived from it." 

Notwithstanding the superiority of these definitions to the 
metaphysical definitions which depended on the conception 
of beauty, they are yet far from exact. (1 a) The first, the 
physiological-evolutionary definition, is inexact, because, 
instead of speaking about the artistic activity itself, which 
is the real matter in hand, it treats of the derivation of art. 
The modification of it (1 6), based on the physiological effects 
on the human organism, is inexact, because within the limits 
of such definition many other human .ctrvities can be 
included, as has occurred in the neo-aesthetic theories, which 



reckon as art the preparation of handsome clothes, pleasant 
scents, and even of victuals. 

The experimental definition (2), which makes art consist 
in the expression of emotions, is inexact, because a man may 
express his emotions by means of lines, colours, sounds, or 
words, and yet may not act on others by such expression ; 
and then the manifestation of his emotions is not art. 

The third definition (that of Sully) is inexact, because 
in the production of objects or actions affording pleasure 
to the producer and a pleasant emotion to the spectators 
or hearers apart from personal advantage, may be included 
the showing of conjuring tricks or gymnastic exercises, 
and other activities which are not art. And, further, 
many things, the production of which does not afford 
pleasure to the producer, and the sensation received from 
which is unpleasant, such as gloomy, heart-rending scenes 
in a poetic description or a play, may nevertheless be 
undoubted works of art. 

The inaccuracy of all these definitions arises from the fact 
that in them all (as also in the metaphysical definitions) the 
object considered is the pleasure art may give, and not the 
purpose it may serve in the life of man and of humanity. 

In order correctly to define art, it is necessary, first of all, 
to cease to consider it as a means to pleasure, and to consider . 
it as one of the conditions of human life. Viewing it in 
this way, we cannot fail to observe that art is one of the 
means of intercourse between man and man. 

Every work of art causes the receiver to enter into a 
certain kind of relationship both with him who produced, 
or is producing, the art, and with all those who, simul 
taneously, previously or subsequently, receive the same 
artistic impression. 

Speech, transmitting the thoughts and experiences of 
men, serves as a means of union among them, and art acts 
in a similar manner. The peculiarity of this latter means 


of intercourse, distinguishing it from intercourse by means 
of words, consists in this, that whereas by words a man 
transmits his thoughts to another, by means of art he 
transmits his feelings. 

The activity of art is based on the fact that a man, 
receiving through his sense of hearing or sight another 
man s expression of feeling, is capable of experiencing the 
emotion which moved the man who expressed it. To take 
the simplest example : one man laughs, and another, who 
hears, becomes merry; or a man weeps, and another, who 
hears, feels sorrow. A man is excited or irritated, and 
another man, seeing him, comes to a similar state of mind. 
By his movements, or by the sounds of his voice, a man 
expresses courage and determination, or sadness and calm 
ness, and this state of mind passes on to others. A man 
suffers, expressing his sufferings by groans and spasms, 
and this suffering transmits itself to other people ; a man 
expresses his feeling of admiration, devotion, fear, respect, or 
love to certain objects, persons, or phenomena, and others 
are infected by the same feelings of admiration, devotion, 
fear, respect, or love to the same objects, persons, and 

And it is on this capacity of man to receive another man s 
expression of feeling, and experience those feelings himself, 
that the activity of art is based. 

If a man infects another or others, directly, immediately, by 
his appearance, or by the sounds he gives vent to at the very 
time he experiences the feeling ; if he causes another man 
to yawn when he himself cannot help yawning, or to laugh 
or cry when he himself is obliged to laugh or cry, or to suffer 
when he himself is suffering that does not amount to art. 

Art begins when one person, with the object of joining 
another or others to himself in one and the same feeling, 
expresses that feeling by certain external indications. To 
take the simplest example : a boy, having experienced, let us 


say, fear on encountering a wolf, relates that encounter ; and, 
in order to evoke in others the feeling he has experienced, 
describes himself, his condition before the encounter, the 
surroundings, the wood, his own lightheartedness, and then 
the wolf s appearance, its movements, the distance between 
himself and the wolf, etc. All this, if only the boy when 
telling the story, again experiences the feelings he had lived 
through and infects the hearers and compels them to feel 
what the narrator had experienced, is art. If even the 
boy had not seen a wolf but had frequently been afraid of 
one, and if, wishing to evoke in others the fear he had felt, 
he invented an encounter with a wolf, and recounted it so 
as to make his hearers share the feelings he experienced 
when he feared the wolf, that also would be art. And 
just in the same way it is art if a man, having experienced 
either the fear of suffering or the attraction of enjoyment 
(whether in reality or in imagination), expresses these 
feelings on canvas or in marble so that others are infected 
by them. And it is also art if a man feels or imagines 
to himself feelings of delight, gladness, sorrow, despair, 
courage, or Despondency^ and the transition from one to 
another of these feelings, and expresses these feelings by 
sounds, so that the hearers are infected by them, and 
experience them as they were experienced by the composer. 

The feelings with which the artist infects others may be 
most various very strong or very weak, very important or 
very insignificant, very bad or very good : feelings of love 
for native land, self-devotion and submission to fate or to 
God expressed in a drama, raptures of lovers described in 
a novel, feelings of voluptuousness expressed in a picture, 
courage expressed in a triumphal inarch, merriment evoked 
by a dance, humour evoked by a funny story, the feeling 
of quietness transmitted by an evening landscape or by a 
lullaby, or the feeling of admiration evoked by a beautiful 
arabesque it is all art. 


If only the spectators or auditors are infected by the 
feelings which the author has felt, it is art. 

To evoke in oneself a feeling one has once experienced, and 
having evoked it in oneself, then, by means of movements, lines, 
colours, sounds, or forms expressed in ivords, so to transmit 
that feeling that others may experience the same feeling 
this is the activity of art. 

Art is a human activity, consisting in this, that one man 
consciously, by means of certain external signs, hands on to 
others feelings he has lived through, and that other people 
are infected by these feelings, and also experience them. 

Art is not, as the metaphysicians say, the manifestation 
of some mysterious Idea of beauty, or God ; it is not, as the 
sesthetical physiologists say, a game in which man lets off his 
excess of stored-up energy ; it is not the expression of man s 
emotions by external signs; it is not the production of 
pleasing objects ; and, above all, it is not pleasure ; but it is 
a means of union among men, joining them together in the 
same feelings, and indispensable for the life and progress 
towards well-being of individuals and of humanity. 

As, thanks to man s capacity to express thoughts by words, 
every man may know all that has been done for him in the 
realms of thought by all humanity before his day, and can, in 
the present, thanks to this capacity to understand the thoughts 
of others, become a sharer in their activity, and can himself 
hand on to his contemporaries and descendants the thoughts 
he has assimilated from others, as well as those which have 
arisen within himself; so, thanks to man s capacity to be 
infected with the feelings of others by means of art, all that 
is being lived through by his contemporaries is accessible to 
him, as well as the feelings experienced by men thousands of 
years ago, and he has also the possibility of transmitting his 
own feelings to others. 

If people lacked this capacity to receive the thoughts 
conceived by the men who preceded them, and to pass on to 


others their own thoughts, men would he like wild beasts, or 
like Ivaspar Hauser. 1 

And if men lacked this other capacity of being infected by 
art, people might be almost more savage still, and, above all, 
more separated from, and more hostile to, one another. 

And therefore the activity of art is a most important one, 
as important as the activity of speech itself, and as generally 

We are accustomed to understand art to be only what we 
hear and see in theatres, concerts, and exhibitions ; together 
with buildings, statues, poems, novels. . . . But all this is but 
the smallest part of the art by which we communicate with 
each other in life. All human life is filled with works of 
art of every kind from cradle-song, jest, mimicry, the 
ornamentation of houses, dress and utensils, up to church 
services, buildings, monuments, and triumphal processions. 
It is all artistic activity. So that by art, in the limited 
sense of the word, we do not mean all human activity 
transmitting feelings, but only that part which we for 
some reason select from it and to which we attach special 

This special importance has always been given by all 
men to that part of this activity which transmits feelings 
flowing from their religious perception, and this small part 
of art they have specifically called art, attaching to it the 
full meaning of the word. 

That was how men of old Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle 
looked on art. Thus did the Hebrew prophets and the 
ancient Christians regard art; thus it was, and still is, 

1 "The foundling ol Nuremberg," found in the market-place of 
that town on 26th May 1828, apparently some sixteen years old. 
He spoke little, and was almost totally ignorant even of common 
objects. He subsequently explained that he had been brought up in 
confinement underground, and visited by only one man, whom he saw 
but seldom. Trans. 


understood by the Mahommedans, and thus is it still under 
stood by religious folk among our own peasantry. 

Some teachers of mankind as Plato in his Republic, 
and people such as the primitive Christians, the strict 
Mahommedans, and the Buddhists have gone so far as to 
repudiate all art. 

People viewing art in this way (in contradiction to the 
prevalent view of to-day, which regards any art as good if 
only it affords pleasure) considered, and consider, that art 
(as contrasted with speech, which need not be listened to) is so 
highly dangerous in its power to infect people against their 
wills, that mankind will lose far less by banishing all art 
than by tolerating each and every art. 

Evidently such people were wrong in repudiating all 
art, for they denied that which cannot be denied one of 
the indispensable means of communication, without which 
mankind could not exist. But not less wrong are the people 
of civilised European society of our class and day, in 
favouring any art if it but serves beauty, i.e. gives people 

Formerly, people feared lest among the works of art 
there might chance to be some causing corruption, and they 
prohibited art altogether. Now, they only fear lest they 
should be deprived of any enjoyment art can afford, and 
patronise any art. And I think the last error is much 
grosser than the first, and that its consequences are far 
more harmful. 


Bur how could it happen that that very art, which in 
ancient times was merely tolerated (if tolerated at all), 
should have come, in our times, to be invariably considered 
a good thing if only it affords pleasure 1 

It has resulted from the following causes. The estimation 
of the value of art (i.e. of the feelings it transmits) depends 
on men s perception of the meaning of life ; depends on 
what they consider to be the good and the evil of life. 
And what is good and what is evil is denned by what are 
termed religions. 

Humanity unceasingly moves forward from a lower, more 
partial, and obscure understanding of life, to one more 
general and more lucid. And in this, as in every movement, 
there are leaders, those who have understood the meaning 
of life more clearly than others, and of these advanced men 
there is always one who has, in his words and by his life, 
expressed this meaning more clearly, accessibly, and strongly 
than others. This man s expression of the meaning of life, 
together with those superstitions, traditions, and ceremonies 
which usually form themselves round the memory of such a 
man, is what is called a religion. Religions are the ex 
ponents of the highest comprehension of life accessible to 
the best and foremost men at a given time in a given society ; 
a comprehension towards which, inevitably and irresistibly, 
all the rest of that society must advance. And therefore 
only religions have always served, and still serve, as bases 
for the valuation of human sentiments. If feelings bring 

53 , 


men nearer the ideal their religion indicates, if they are 
in harmony with it and do not contradict it, they are good ; 
if they estrange men from, it and oppose it, they are bad. 

If the religion places the meaning of life in worshipping 
one God and fulfilling what is regarded as His will, as was 
the case among the Jews, then the feelings flowing from 
love to that God, and to His law, successfully transmitted 
through the art of poetry by the prophets, by the psalms, or 
by the epic of the book of Genesis, is good, high art. All 
opposing that, as for instance the transmission of feelings 
of devotion to strange gods, or of feelings incompatible with 
the law of God, would be considered bad art. Or if, as 
was the case among the Greeks, the religion places the 
meaning of life in earthly happiness, in beauty and in 
strength, then art successfully transmitting the joy and 
energy of life would be considered good art, but art which 
transmitted feelings of effeminacy or despondency would be 
bad art. If the meaning of life is seen in the well-being 
of one s nation, or in honouring one s ancestors and con 
tinuing the mode of life led by them, as was the case among 
the Romans and the Chinese respectively, then art trans 
mitting feelings of joy at sacrificing one s personal well-being 
for the common weal, or at exalting one s ancestors and 
maintaining their traditions, would be considered good art ; 
but art expressing feelings contrary to this would be regarded 
as bad. If the meaning of life is seen in freeing oneself from 
the yoke of animalism, as is the case among the Buddhists, 
then art successfully transmitting feelings that elevate the 
soul and humble the flesh will be good art, and all that 
transmits feelings strengthening the bodily passions will be 
bad art. 

In every age, and in every human society, there exists a 
religious sense, common to that whole society, of what is 
good and what is bad, and it is this religious conception 
that decides the value of the feelings transmitted by art. 


And therefore, among all nations, art which transmitted 
feelings considered to be good by this general religious 
sense was recognised as being good and was encouraged ; 
but art which transmitted feelings considered to be bad by 
this general religious conception, was recognised as being 
bad, and was rejected. All the rest of the immense field 
of art by means of which people communicate one with 
another, was not esteemed at all, and was only noticed when 
it ran counter to the religious conception of its age, and 
then merely to be repudiated. Thus it was among all 
nations, Greeks, Jews, Indians, Egyptians, and Chinese, 
and so it was when Christianity appeared. 

The Christianity of the first centuries recognised as 
productions of good art, only legends, lives of saints, 
sermons, prayers and hymn-singing, evoking love of Christ, 
emotion at his life, desire to follow his example, renuncia 
tion of worldly life, humility, and the love of others ; all 
productions transmitting feelings of personal enjoyment 
they considered to be bad, and therefore rejected : for 
instance, tolerating plastic representations only when they 
were symbolical, they rejected all the pagan sculptures. 

This was so among the Christians of the first centuries, 
who accepted Christ s teaching, if not quite in its true form, 
at least not in the perverted, paganised form in which it 
was accepted subsequently. 

But besides this Christianity, from the time of the whole 
sale conversion of nations by order of the authorities, as in 
the days of Constantino, Charlemagne, and Vladimir, there 
appeared another, a Church Christianity, which was nearer 
to paganism than to Christ s teaching. And this Church 
Christianity, in accordance with its own teaching, estimated 
quite otherwise the feelings of people and the productions 
of art which transmitted those feelings. 

This Church Christianity not only did not acknowledge the 
fundamental and essential positions of true Christianity, 


the immediate relationship of each man to the Father, the 
consequent brotherhood and equality of all men, and the 
substitution of humility and love in place of every kind of 
violence but, on the contrary, having set up a heavenly 
hierarchy similar to the pagan mythology, and having intro 
duced the worship of Christ, of the Virgin, of angels, of 
apostles, of saints, and of martyrs, and not only of these 
divinities themselves, but also of their images, it made blind 
faith in the Church and its ordinances the essential point of 
its teaching. 

However foreign this teaching may have been to true 
Christianity, however degraded, not only in comparison 
with true Christianity, but even with the life-conception of 
Romans such as Julian and others ; it was, for all that, 
to the barbarians who accepted it, a higher doctrine 
than their former adoration of gods, heroes, and good 
and bad spirits. And therefore this teaching was a 
religion to them, and on the basis of that religion the 
art of the time was assessed. And art transmitting pious 
adoration of the Virgin, Jesus, the saints and the angels, 
a blind faith in and submission to the Church, fear of 
torments and hope of blessedness in a life beyond the 
grave, was considered good ; all art opposed to this was 
considered bad. 

The teaching on the basis of which this art arose was a 
perversion of Christ s teaching, but the art which sprang up 
on this perverted teaching was nevertheless a true art, 
because it corresponded to the religious view of life held by 
the people among whom it arose. 

The artists of the Middle Ages, vitalised by the same 
source of feeling religion as the mass of the people, and 
transmitting, in architecture, sculpture, painting, music, 
poetry or drama, the feelings and states of mind they 
experienced, were true artists ; and their activity, founded 
on the highest conceptions accessible to their age and 


common to the entire people, though, for our times a 
mean art, was, nevertheless a true one, shared by the 
whole community. 

And this was the state of things until, in the upper, rich, 
more educated classes of European society, doubt arose as to 
the truth of that understanding of life which was expressed 
by Church Christianity. When, after the Crusades and the 
maximum development of papal power and its abuses, 
people of the rich classes became acquainted with the wisdom 
of the classics, and saw, on the one hand, the reasonable 
lucidity of the teaching of the ancient sages, and, on the 
other hand, the incompatibility of the Church doctrine with 
the teaching of Christ, they lost all possibility of continuing 
to believe the Church teaching. 

If, in externals, they still kept to the forms of Church 
teaching, they could no longer believe in it, and held to ib 
only by inertia and for the sake of influencing the masses, 
who continued to believe blindly in Church doctrine, and 
whom the upper classes, for their own advantage, considered 
it necessary to support in those beliefs. 

So that a time came when Church Christianity ceased to 
be the general religious doctrine of all Christian people; 
some the masses continued blindly to believe in it, but 
the upper classes those in whose hands lay the power and 
wealth, and therefore the leisure to produce art and the 
means to stimulate it ceased to believe in that teaching. 

In respect to religion, the upper circles of the Middle Ages 
found themselves in the same position in which the educated 
Romans were before Christianity arose, i.e. they no longer 
believed in the religion of the masses, but had no beliefs to 
put in place of the worn-out Church doctrine which for them 
had lost its meaning. 

There was only this difference, that whereas for the 
Romans who lost faith in their emperor-gods and household- 
gods it was impossible to extract anything further from all 


the complex mythology they had borrowed from all the 
conquered nations, and it was consequently necessary to find 
a completely new conception of life, the people of the Middle 
Ages, when they doubted the truth of the Church teaching, 
had no need to seek a fresh one. That Christian teaching 
which they professed in a perverted form as Church doctrine, 
had mapped out the path of human progress so far ahead, 
that they had but to rid themselves of those perversions 
which hid the teaching announced by Christ, and to adopt 
its real meaning if not completely, then at least in some 
greater degree than that in which the Church had held it. 
And this was partially done, not only in the reformations of 
Wyclif, Huss, Luther, and Calvin, but by all that current 
of non-Church Christianity, represented in earlier times 
by the Paulicians, the Bogomili, 1 and, afterwards, by the 
Waldenses and the other non-Church Christians who were 
called heretics. But this could be, and was, done chiefly 
by poor people who did not rule. A few of the rich and 
strong, like Francis of Assisi and others, accepted the 
Christian teaching in its full significance, even though it 
undermined their privileged positions. But most people of 
the upper classes (though in the depth of their souls they 
had lost faith in the Church teaching) could not or would 
not act thus, because the essence of that Christian view 
of life, which stood ready to be adopted when once they 
rejected the Church faith, was a teaching of the brotherhood 
(and therefore the equality) of man, and this negatived 
those privileges on which they lived, in which they had 
grown up and been educated, and to which they were 
accustomed. Not, in the depth of their hearts, believing in 
the Church teaching, which had outlived its age and had 
no longer any true meaning for them, and not being strong 

1 Eastern sects well known in early Church history, who rejected 
the Church s rendering of Christ s teaching and were cruelly per 
secuted. Trans. 


enough to accept true Christianity, men of these rich, 
governing classes popes, kings, dukes, and all the great ones 
of the earth were left without any religion, with but the 
external forms of one, which they supported as being 
profitable and even necessary for themselves, since these 
forms screened a teaching which justified those privileges 
which they made use of. In reality, these people believed 
in nothing, just as the Eomans of the first centuries of our 
era believed in nothing. But at the same time these were 
the people who had the power and the wealth, and these 
were the people who rewarded art and directed it. 

And, let it be noticed, it was just among these people that 
there grew up an art esteemed not according to its success in 
expressing men s religious feelings, but in proportion to its 
beauty, in other words, according to the enjoyment it 

No longer able to believe in the Church religion whose 
falsehood they had detected, and incapable of accepting true 
Christian teaching, which denounced their whole manner of 
life, these rich and powerful people, stranded without any 
religious conception of life, involuntarily returned to that 
pagan view of things which places life s meaning in personal 
enjoyment. And then took place among the upper classes 
what is called the "Renaissance of science and art," and 
which was really not only a denial of every religion but 
also an assertion that religion is unnecessary. 

The Church doctrine is so coherent a system that it cannot 
be altered or corrected without destroying it altogether. As 
soon as doubt arose with regard to the infallibility of the 
pope (and this doubt was then in the minds of all educated 
people), doubt inevitably followed as to the truth of tradition. 
But doubt as to the truth of tradition is fatal not only to 
popery and Catholicism, but also to the whole Church creed 
with all its dogmas : the divinity of Christ, the resurrection, 
and the Trinity ; and it destroys the authority of the 


Scriptures, since they were considered to be inspired only 
because the tradition of the Church decided it so. 

So that the majority of the highest classes of that age, 
even the popes and the ecclesiastics, really believed in 
nothing at all. In the Church doctrine these people did 
not believe, for they saw its insolvency ; but neither could 
they follow Francis of Assisi, Keltchitsky, 1 and most of the 
heretics, in acknowledging the moral, social teaching of 
Christ, for that teaching undermined their social position. 
And so these people remained without any religious view 
of life. And, having none, they could have no standard 
wherewith to estimate what was good and what was bad art 
but that of personal enjoyment. And, having acknowledged 
their criterion of what was good to be pleasure, i.e. beauty, 
these people of the upper classes of European society went 
back in their comprehension of art to the gross conception 
of the primitive Greeks which Plato had already condemned. 
And conformably to this understanding of life a theory of 
art was formulated. 

1 Keltchitsky, a Bohemian of the fifteenth century, was the author 
of a remarkable book, The Net of Faith, directed against Church and 
State. It is mentioned in Tolstoy s The Kingdom of God is Within 
You. Trans. 


FROM the time that people of the upper classes lost faith in 
Church Christianity, beauty (i.e. the pleasure received from 
art) became their standard of good and bad art. And, in 
accordance with that view, an aesthetic theory naturally sprang 
up among those upper classes justifying such a conception, 
a theory according to which the aim of art is to exhibit 
beauty. The partisans of this aesthetic theory, in confirma 
tion of its truth, affirmed that it was no invention of their 
own, but that it existed in the nature of things, and was 
recognised even by the ancient Greeks. But this assertion 
was quite arbitrary, and has no foundation other than the 
fact that among the ancient Greeks, in consequence of 
the low grade of their moral ideal (as compared with the 
Christian), their conception of the good, TO <lya#6V, was not 
yet sharply divided from their conception of the beautiful, 

That highest perfection of goodness (not only not identical 
with beauty, but, for the most part, contrasting with it) which 
was discerned by the Jews even in the times of Isaiah, and 
fully expressed by Christianity, was quite unknown to the 
Greeks. They supposed that the beautiful must necessarily 
also be the good. It is true that their foremost thinkers 
Socrates, Plato, Aristotle felt that goodness may happen not 
to coincide with beauty. Socrates expressly subordinated 
beauty to goodness; Plato, to unite the two conception?, 
spoke of spiritual beauty ; while Aristotle demanded from art 
that it should have a moral influence on people (/ca#apo-is). 



But, notwithstanding all this," they could not quite dismiss 
the notion that beauty and goodness coincide. 

And consequently, in the language of that period, a 
compound word (/caAo-icdya& a, beauty-goodness), came into 
use to express that notion. 

Evidently the Greek sages began to draw near to that 
perception of goodness which is expressed in Buddhism and 
in Christianity, and they got entangled in denning the 
relation between goodness and beauty. Plato s reasonings 
about beauty and goodness are full of contradictions. And 
it was just this confusion of ideas that those Europeans of 
a later age, who had lost all faith, tried to elevate into a 
law. They tried to prove that this union of beauty and 
goodness is inherent in the very essence of things ; 
that beauty and goodness must coincide; and that 
the word and conception KaX.o-KayaOta (which had a 
meaning for Greeks but has none at all for Christians) 
represents the highest ideal of humanity. On this mis 
understanding the new science of aesthetics was built up. 
And, to justify its existence, the teachings of the ancients 
on art were so twisted as to make it appear that this 
invented science of aesthetics had existed among the Greeks. 

In reality, the reasoning of the ancients on art was quite 
unlike ours. As Benard, in his book on the aesthetics of 
Aristotle, quite justly remarks : " Pour qui veut y regarderde 
pre.<, la theorie du beau et celle de I art sont tout a fait separees 
dans Aristote, comme elles le sont dans Platon et chez tons 
leurs successeurs " (L esthetique d Aristote et de ses successeurs, 
Paris, 1889, p. 28). 1 And indeed the reasoning of the 
ancients on art not only does not confirm our science of 
aesthetics, but rather contradicts its doctrine of beauty. But 
nevertheless all the aesthetic guides, from Schasler to Knight, 

1 Any one examining closely may see that the theory of beauty and 
that of art are quite separated in Aristotle as they are in Plato and in 
all their successors. 


declare that the science of the beautiful aesthetic science 
was commenced by the ancients, by Socrates, Plato, Aristotle ; 
and was continued, they say, partially by the Epicureans 
and Stoics : by Seneca and Plutarch, down to Plotinus. But 
it is supposed that this science, by some unfortunate accident, 
suddenly vanished in the fourth century, and stayed away for 
about 1500 years, and only after these 1500 years had passed 
did it revive in Germany, A.D. 1750, in Baumgarten s doctrine. 

After Plotinus, says Schasler, fifteen centuries passed 
away during which there was not the slightest scientific 
interest felt for the world of beauty and art. These one 
and a half thousand years, says he, have been lost to aesthetics 
and have contributed nothing towards the erection of the 
learned edifice of this science. 1 

In reality nothing of the kind happened. The science of 
aesthetics, the science of the beautiful, neither did nor could 
vanish because it never existed. Simply, the Greeks (just 

1 Die Liicke von fiinf Jalirhunderten, welche zwischen den Kunst- 
philosophischen Betrachtuugen des Plato und Aristoteles und die des 
Plotins falltj kanii zwar auffallig erseheinen ; denuoch kann man 
eigentlich nicht sagen, dass in diesef Zwischenzeit uberhaupt von 
iisthetischen Dingen nicht die Rede gevvesen ; oder dass gar ein volliger 
Mangel an Zusarnmenhang zwischen den Kunst-anschauungen des 
letztgenanuten PMlosophen und denen der ersteren existire. Freilich 
wurde die von Aristoteles begriindete Wissenschaft in Nichts dadurch 
gefordert ; immerhin aber zeigt sich in jener Zwischenzeit noch 
ein gewisses Interesse fiir ii.sthetisclie Fragen. Nach Plotin aber, die 
wenigen, ihm in der Zeit nahestehenden Philosophen, wie Longin r 
Augustin, u. s. f. konimen, wie wir gesehen, kaum in Betracht und 
schliessen sich iibrigens in ihrer Anschauungswcise an ihn an, 
vergehen nicht fiinf, sondern funfzehn Jahrhunderte, in denen von 
irgend einer wissenschaftlicheii Interesse fiir die Welt des Schonen und 
der Kunst nichts zu spiiren ist. 

Diese anderthalbtauseud Jahre, innerhalb deren der Weltgeist 
durch die rnannigfachsten Kampfe hindurch zu einer vollig neuen 
Gestaltung des Lebens sich durcharbeitete, sind fiir die Aesthetik, 
hinsichtlich des weitereu Ausbaus dieser Wissenschaft verloren. ]\lax 


like everybody else, always and everywhere) considered 
art (like everything else) good only when it served goodness 
(as they understood goodness), and bad when it was in 
opposition to that goodness. And the Greeks themselves 
were so little developed morally, that goodness and beauty 
seemed to them to coincide. On that obsolete Greek view 
of life was erected the science of aesthetics, invented by men 
of the eighteenth century, and especially shaped and 
mounted in Baumgarten s theory. The Greeks (as anyone 
may see who will read Benard s admirable book on Aristotle 
and his successors, and Walter s work on Plato) never had a 
science of aesthetics. 

^Esthetic theories arose about one hundred and fifty 
years ago among the wealthy classes of the Christian 
European world, and arose simultaneously among different 
nations, German, Italian, Dutch, French, and English. 
The founder and organiser of it, who gave it a scientific, 
theoretic form, was Baumgarten. 

With a characteristically German, external exactitude, 
pedantry and symmetry, he devised and expounded this 
extraordinary theory. And, notwithstanding its obvious 
insolidity, nobody else s theory so pleased the cultured 
crowd, or was accepted so readily and with such an 
absence of criticism. It so suited the people of the upper 
classes, that to this day, notwithstanding its entirely fantastic 
character and the arbitrary nature of its assertions, it is 
repeated by learned and unlearned as though it were some 
thing indubitable and self-evident. 

Habent sua fata libelli pro capite lectoris, and so, or even 
more so, theories Jiabent sua fata according to the condition 
of error in which that society is living, among whom and for 
whom the theories are invented. If a theory justifies the false 
position in which a certain part of a society is living, then, 
however unfounded or even obviously false the theory may 
be, it is accepted, and becomes an article of faith to that 


section of society. Such, for instance, was the celebrated and 
unfounded theory expounded by Malthus, of the tendency 
of the population of the world to increase in geometrical 
progression, but of the means of sustenance to increase only 
in arithmetical progression, and of the consequent over 
population of the world ; such, also, was the theory (an 
outgrowth of the Malthusian) of selection and struggle for 
existence as the basis of human progress. Such, again, is 
.Marx s theory, which regards the gradual destruction of 
small private production by large capitalistic production 
now going on around us, as an inevitable decree of fate. 
However unfounded such theories are, however contrary to 
all that is known and confessed by humanity, and however 
obviously immoral they may be, they are accepted with 
credulity, pass uncriticised, and are preached, perchance 
for centuries, until the conditions are destroyed which they 
served to justify, or until their absurdity has become too 
evident. To this class belongs this astonishing theory of 
the Baumgartenian. Trinity Goodness, Beauty, and Truth, 
according to which it appears that the very best that can be 
done by the art of nations after 1900 years of Christian 
teaching, is to choose as the ideal of their life the ideal that 
was held by a small, semi-savage, slave-holding people 
who lived 2000 years ago, who imitated the nude human 
body extremely well, and erected buildings pleasant to look 
at. All these incompatibilities pass completely unnoticed. 
Learned people write long, cloudy treatises on beauty as a 
member of the aesthetic trinity of Beauty, Truth, and Good 
ness ; das Schone, das Wahre, das Gute ; le Beau, le Vrai, 
Ic Bon, are repeated, with capital letters, by philosophers, 
restheticians and artists, by private individuals, by novelists 
and by feuilletonistes, and they all think, when pronouncing 
these sacrosanct words, that they speak of something quite 
definite and solid something on which they can base their : 
opinions. In reality, these words not only have no definite 


meaning, but they hinder us in attaching any definite mean 
ing to existing art ; they are wanted only for the purpose of 
justifying the false importance we attribute to an art that 
transmits every kind of feeling if only those feelings afford 
us pleasure. 


BUT if art is a human activity having for its purpose the 
transmission to others of the highest and best feelings to 
which men have risen, how could it be that humanity 
for a certain rather considerable period of its existence 
(from the time people ceased to believe in Church doctrine 
down to the present day) should exist without this im 
portant activity, and, instead of it, should put up with an 
insignificant artistic activity only affording pleasure ? 

In order to answer this question, it is necessary, first of 
all, to correct the current error people make in attributing 
to our art the significance of true, universal art. We are 
so accustomed, not only naively to consider the Circassian 
family the best stock of people, but also the Anglo-Saxon 
race the best race if we are Englishmen or Americans, or 
the Teutonic if we are Germans, or the Gallo-Latin if we are 
French, or the Slavonic if we are Russians, that when 
speaking of our own art we feel fully convinced, not only 
that our art is true art, but even that it is the best and only 
true art. But in reality our art is not only not the only art 
(as the Bible once was held to be the only book), but it is 
not even the art of the whole of Christendom, only of a 
small section of that part of humanity. It was correct to 
speak of a national Jewish, Grecian, or Egyptian art, and one 
may speak of a now-existing Chinese, Japanese, or Indian art 
shared in by a whole people. Such art, common to a whole 
nation, existed in Russia till Peter the First s time, and existed 
in the rest of Europe until the thirteenth or fourteenth 



century ; but since the upper classes of European society, 
having lost faith in the Church teaching, did not accept real 
Christianity but remained without any faith, one can 110 
longer speak of an art of the Christian nations in the sense 
of the whole of art. Since the upper classes of the Christian 
nations lost faith in Church Christianity, the art of those 
upper classes has separated itself from the art of the rest of 
the people, and there have been two arts the art of the 
people and genteel art. And therefore the answer to the 
question how it could occur that humanity lived for a 
certain period without real art, replacing it by art which 
served enjoyment only, is, that not all humanity, nor even 
any considerable portion of it, lived without real art, but 
only the highest classes of European Christian society, and 
even they only for a comparatively short time from the 
commencement of the Renaissance down to our own day. 

And the consequence of this absence of true art showed 
itself, inevitably, in the corruption of that class which 
nourished itself on the false art. All the confused, unin 
telligible theories of art, all the false and contradictory 
judgments on art, and particularly the self-confident stagna 
tion of our art in its false path, all arise from the assertion, 
which has come into common use and is accepted as an 
unquestioned truth, but is yet amazingly and palpably false, 
the assertion, namely, that the art of our upper classes l is 
the whole of art, the true, the only, the universal art. And 
although this assertion (which is precisely similar to the 
assertion made by religious people of the various Churches 
who consider that theirs is the only true religion) is quite 
arbitrary and obviously unjust, yet it is calmly repeated by 
all the people of our circle with full faith in its infallibility. 

1 The contrast made is between the classes and the masses : 
between those who do not and those who do earn their bread by 
productive manual labour ; the middle classes being taken as an 
offshoot of the upper classes. Trans. 


The art we have is the whole of art, the real, the only 
art, and yet two-thirds of the human race (all the peoples 
of Asia and Africa) live and die knowing nothing of this 
sole and supreme art. And even in our Christian society 
hardly one per cent, of the people make use of this art which 
we speak of as being the whole of art ; the remaining ninety- 
nine per cent, live and die, generation after generation, 
crushed by toil and never tasting this art, which moreover 
is of such a nature that, if they could get it, they would not 
understand anything of it. We, according to the current 
aesthetic theory, acknowledge art either as one of the highest 
manifestations of the Idea, God, Beauty, or as the highest 
spiritual enjoyment; furthermore, we hold that all people 
have equal rights, if not to material, at any rate to spiritual 
well-being ; and yet ninety-nine per cent, of our European 
population live and die, generation after generation, crushed 
by toil, much of which toil is necessary for the production of 
our art which they never use, and we, nevertheless, calmly 
assert that the art which we produce is the real, true, only 
. art all of art ! 

To the remark that if our art is the true art everyone 
should have the benefit of it, the usual reply is that if not 
everybody at present makes use of existing art, the fault 
lies, not in the art, but in the false organisation of society ; 
that one can imagine to oneself, in the future, a state of 
things in which physical labour will be partly superseded 
by machinery, partly lightened by its just distribution, and 
that labour for the production of art will be taken in turns ; 
that there is no need for some people always to sit below the 
stage moving the decorations, winding up the machinery, 
working at the piano or French horn, and setting type and 
printing books, but that the people who do all this work 
might be engaged only a few hours per day, and in their 
leisure time might enjoy all the blessings of art. 

That is what the defenders of our exclusive art say. But 


I think they do not themselves believe it. They cannot 
help knowing that fine art can arise only on the slavery of 
the masses of the people, and can continue only as long as 
that slavery lasts, and they cannot help knowing that only 
under conditions of intense labour for the workers, can 
specialists writers, musicians, dancers, and actors arrive 
at that line degree of perfection to which they do attain, 
or produce their refined works of art ; and only under the 
same conditions can there be a line public to esteem such 
productions. Free the slaves of capital, and it will be 
impossible to produce such refined art. 

But even were we to admit the inadmissible, and say that 
means may be found by which art (that art which among us 
is considered to be art) may be accessible to the whole 
people, another consideration presents itself showing that 
fashionable art cannot be the whole of art, viz. the fact 
that it is completely unintelligible to the people. Formerly 
men wrote poems in Latin, but now their artistic productions 
are as unintelligible to the common folk as if they were 
written in Sanskrit. The usual reply to this is, that if the 
people do not now understand this art of ours, it only proves 
that they are undeveloped, and that this has been so at each 
fresh step forward made by art. First it was not under 
stood, but afterwards people got accustomed to it. 

" It will be the same with our present art ; it will be 
understood when everybody is as well educated as are we 
the people of the upper classes who produce this art," say 
the defenders of our art. But this assertion is evidently 
even more unjust than the former ; for we know that the 
majority of the productions of the art of the upper classes, 
such as various odes, poems, dramas, cantatas, pastorals, 
pictures, etc., which delighted the people of the upper 
classes when they were produced, never were afterwards 
either understood or valued by the great masses of man 
kind, but have remained, what they were at first, a mere 


pastime for rich people of their time, for whom alone they 
ever were of any importance. It is also often urged in 
proof of the assertion that the people will some day under 
stand our art, that some productions of so-called "classical" 
poetry, music, or painting, which formerly did not please 
the masses, do now that they have been offered to them 
from all sides begin to please these same masses ; but this 
only shows that the crowd, especially the half-spoilt town 
crowd, can easily (its taste having been perverted) be 
accustomed to any sort of art. Moreover, this art is not 
produced by these masses, nor even chosen by them, but 
is energetically thrust upon them in those public places in 
which art is accessible to the people. For the great majority 
of working people, our art, besides being inaccessible on 
account of its costliness, is strange in its very nature, 
transmitting as it does the feelings of people far removed 
from those conditions of laborious life which are natural to 
the great body of humanity. That which is enjoyment to 
a man of the rich classes, is incomprehensible, as a pleasure, 
to a working man, and evokes in him either no feeling at 
all, or only a feeling quite contrary to that which it evokes 
in an idle and satiated man. Such feelings as form the 
chief subjects of present-day art say, for instance, honour, 1 
patriotism and amorousness, evoke in a working man only 
bewilderment and contempt, or indignation. So that even 
if a possibility were given to the labouring classes, in their 
free time, to see, to read, and to hear all that forms the 
nower of contemporary art (as is done to some extent in 
towns, by means of picture galleries, popular concerts, and 
libraries), the working man (to the extent to which he is a 
labourer, and has not begun to pass into the ranks of those 
perverted by idleness) would be able to make nothing of our 
fine art, and if he did understand it, that which he under- 

1 Duelling is still customary among the higher circles in Russia, as 
in other Continental countries. Trans. 


stood would not elevate his soul, but would certainly, in 
most cases, pervert it. To thoughtful and sincere people 

I there can therefore be no doubt that the art of our upper 
classes never can be the art of the whole people. But if art 
is an important matter, a spiritual blessing, essential for 
\all men ("like religion," as the devotees of art are fond of 
paying), then it should be accessible to everyone. And if, as 
p our day, it is not accessible to all men, then one of two 
things : either art is not the vital matter it is represented 
to be, or that art which we call art is not the real thing. 

The dilemma is inevitable, and therefore clever and 
immoral people avoid it by denying one side of it, viz. 
denying that the common people have a right to art. These 
people simply and boldly speak out (what lies at the heart 
of the matter), and say that the participators in and utilisers 
of what in their esteem is highly beautiful art, i.e. art 
furnishing the greatest enjoyment, can only be "schone 
Geister," "the elect," as the romanticists called them, the 
" Uebermenschen," as they are called by the followers of 
Nietzsche ; the remaining vulgar herd, incapable of ex 
periencing these pleasures, must serve the exalted pleasures 
of this superior breed of people. The people who express 
these views at least do not pretend and do not try to com 
bine the incombinable, but frankly admit, what is the case, 
that our art is an art of the upper classes only. So, 
essentially, art has been, and is, understood by everyone 
engaged on it in our society. 


THE unbelief of the upper classes of the European world 
had this effect, that instead of an artistic activity aiming at 
transmitting the highest feelings to which humanity has 
attained, those flowing from religious perception, we have 
an activity which aims at affording the greatest enjoyment 
to a certain class of society. And of all the immense domain 
of art, that part has been fenced off, and is alone called art, 
which affords enjoyment to the people of this particular 

Apart from the moral effects on European society of such 
a selection from the whole sphere of art of what did not de 
serve such a valuation, and the acknowledgment of it as 
important art, this perversion of art has weakened art itself, 
and well-nigh destroyed it. The first great result was that 
art was deprived of the infinite, varied, and profound religious 
subject-matter proper to it. The second result was that 
having only a small circle of people in view, it lost its beauty 
of form and became affected and obscure ; and the third and 
chief result was that it ceased to be either natural or even 
sincere, and became thoroughly artificial and brain-spun. 

The first result the impoverishment of subject-matter 
followed because only that is a true work of art which v 
transmits fresh feelings not before experienced by man. 
As thought-product is only then real thought-product when 
it transmits new conceptions and thoughts, and does not 
merely repeat what was known before, so also an art- 
product is only then a genuine art-product when it brings 


u new feeling (however insignificant) into the current of 
human life. This explains why children and youths are 
so strongly impressed by those works of art which first 
transmit to them feelings they had not before experienced. 

The same powerful impression is made on people by feelings 
which are quite new, and have never before been expressed 
by man. And it is the source from which such feelings 
iiow of which the art of the upper classes has deprived 
itself by estimating feelings, not in conformity with religious 
perception, but according to the degree of enjoyment they 
afford. There is nothing older and more hackneyed than 
enjoyment, and there is nothing fresher than the feelings 
springing from the religious consciousness of each age. It 
could not be otherwise : man s enjoyment has limits estab 
lished by his nature, but the movement forward of 
humanity, that which is voiced by religious perception, has 
no limits. At every forward step taken by humanity 
and such steps are taken in consequence of the greater and 
greater elucidation of religious perception men experience 
new and fresh feelings. And therefore only on the basis 
of religious perception (which shows the highest level of 
life-comprehension reached by the men of a certain period) 
can fresh emotion, never before felt by man, arise. From 
k the religious perception of the ancient Greeks flowed the 
really new, important, and endlessly varied feelings ex 
pressed by Homer and the tragic writers. It was the same 
among the Jews, who attained the religious conception of a 
single God, from that perception flowed all those new and 
important emotions expressed by the prophets. It was the 
same for the poets of the Middle Ages, who, if they believed 
in a heavenly hierarchy, believed also in the Catholic 
commune ; and it is the same for a man of to-day who has 
grasped the religious conception of true Christianity the 
brotherhood of man. 

The variety of fresh feelings flowing from religious 


perception is endless, and they are all new, for religious 
perception is nothing else than the first indication of that 
"which is coming into existence, viz. the new relation of 
man to the world around him. But the feelings flowing 
from the desire for enjoyment are, on the contrary, not 
only limited, but were long ago experienced and expressed. 
And therefore the lack of belief of the upper classes of 
Europe has left them with an art fed on the poorest 

The impoverishment of the subject-matter of upper-class 
art was further increased by the fact that, ceasing to be 
religious, it ceased also to be popular, and this again 
diminished the range of feelings which it transmitted. For 
the range of feelings experienced by the powerful and the 
rich, who have no experience of labour for the support of 
life, is far poorer, more limited, and more insignificant than 
the range of feelings natural to working people. 

People of our circle, sestheticians, usually think and say 
just the contrary of this. I remember how Gontchareff, the 
author, a very clever and educated man but a thorough towns 
man and an sesthetician, said to me that after Tourgenieff s 
Memoirs of a Sportsman there was nothing left to write about 
in peasant life. It was all used up. The life of working 
people seemed to him so simple that Tourgenieff s peasant 
stories had used up all there was to describe. The life of 
our wealthy people, with their love affairs and dissatisfac 
tion with themselves, seemed to him full of inexhaustible 
subject-matter. One hero kissed his lady on her palm, 
another on her elbow, and a third somewhere else. One 
man is discontented through idleness, and another because 
people don t love him. And Gontchareff thought that in 
this sphere there is no end of variety. And this opinion 
that the life of working people is poor in subject-matter, 
but that our life, the life of the idle, is full of interest- 
is shared by very many people in our society. The life of 


a labouring man, with its endlessly varied forms of labour, 
and the dangers connected with this labour on sea and 
underground; his migrations, the intercourse with his em 
ployers, overseers, and companions and with men of other 
religions and other nationalities ; his struggles with nature 
and with wild beasts, the associations with domestic animals, 
the work in the forest, on the steppe, in the field, the garden, 
the orchard ; his intercourse with wif e and children, not only 
as with people near and dear to him, but as with co-workers 
and helpers in labour, replacing him in time of need ; his 
concern in all economic questions, not as matters of display 
or discussion, but as problems of life for himself and his 
family ; his pride in self-suppression and service to others, 
his pleasures of refreshment; and with all these interests 
permeated by a religious attitude towards these occurrences 
all this to us, who have not these interests and possess no 
religious perception, seems monotonous in comparison with 
those small enjoyments and insignificant cares of our life, 
a life, not of labour nor of production, but of consumption and 
destruction of that which others have produced for us. We 
think the feelings experienced by people of our day and 
our class are very important and varied; but in reality 
i, almost all the feelings of people of our class amount to 
j|: ! but three very insignificant and simple feelings the feeling 
jljbf pride, the feeling of sexual desire, and the feeling of 
[[{ (weariness of life. These three feelings, with their out- 
growths, form almost the only subject-matter of the art of 
the rich classes. 

At first, at the very beginning of the separation of the 
exclusive art of the upper classes from universal art, its 
chief subject-matter was the feeling of pride. It was so at 
the time of the Renaissance and after it, when the chief 
subject of works of art was the laudation of the strong 
popes, kings, and dukes: odes and madrigals were written in 
their honour, and they were extolled in cantatas and hymns ; 


their portraits were painted, and their statues carved, in 
various adulatory ways. Next, the element of sexual desire 
began more and more to enter into art, and (with very few 
exceptions, and in novels and dramas almost without 
exception) it has now become an essential feature of every 
art product of the rich classes. 

The third feeling transmitted by the art of the rich that 
of discontent with life appeared yet later in modern art. 
This feeling, which, at the commencement of the present 
century, was expressed only by exceptional men ; by Byron, 
by Leopardi, and afterwards by Heine, has latterly become 
fashionable and is expressed by most ordinary and empty 
people. Most justly does the French critic Douinic 
characterise the works of the new writers " c cst la 
latitude de vivre, le mepris de Vepoque presente, le regret 
(Tun autre temps aper$u a tracers ^illusion de J art, le 
f/otit du paradoxe, le besoin de se singulariser, une aspira 
tion de rqffines vers la simplicite, V adoration enfantine du 
merveilleux, la seduction maladivc de la reverie , Tebranlement 
des nerfs, surtout I appel exaspere de la sensualite" (Les 
Jeunes, Keii6 Doumic). 1 And, as a matter of fact, of these 
three feelings it is sensuality, the lowest (accessible not 
only to all men but even to all animals) which forms the 
chief subject-matter of works of art of recent times. 

From Boccaccio to Marcel Prevost, all the novels, poems, 
and verses invariably transmit the feeling of sexual love in 
its different forms. Adultery is not only the favourite, but 
almost the only theme of all the novels. A performance is 
not a performance unless, under some pretence, women appear 

1 It is the weariness of life, contempt lor the present epoch, regret 
for another age seen through the illusion of art, a taste for paradox, 
a desire to be singular, a sentimental aspiration after simplicity, an 
infantine adoration of the marvellous, a sickly tendency towards 
reverie, a shattered condition of nerves, and, above all, the ex- 
aspen ted demand of sensuality. 


with naked busts and limbs. Songs and romances all are 
expressions of lust, idealised in various degrees. 

A majority of the pictures by French artists represent 
female nakedness in various forms. In recent French 
literature there is hardly a page or a poem in which 
nakedness is not described, and in which, relevantly or 
irrelevantly, their favourite thought and word nu is not 
repeated a couple of times. There is a certain writer, Rene 
de Gourmond, who gets printed, and is considered talented. 
To get an idea of the new writers, I read his novel, Les 
Chevaux de Diomede. It is a consecutive and detailed 
account of the sexual connections some gentleman had with 
various women. Every page contains lust-kindling descrip 
tions. It is the same in Pierre Louys book, ^Aphrodite, 
which met with success ; it is the same in a book I lately 
chanced upon Huysmans Certains, and, with but few 
exceptions, it is the same in all the French novels. They 
are all the productions of people suffering from erotic 
mania. And these people are evidently convinced that as 
their whole life, in consequence of their diseased condition, 
is concentrated on amplifying various sexual abominations, 
therefore the life of all the world is similarly concentrated. 
And these people, suffering from erotic mania, are imitated 
throughout the whole artistic world of Europe and America. 

Thus in consequence of the lack of belief and the 
exceptional manner of life of the wealthy classes, the art 
of those classes became impoverished in its subject-matter, 
and has sunk to the transmission of the feelings of pride, 
discontent with life, and, above all, of sexual desire. 


IN consequence of their unbelief the art of the upper classes 
became poor in subject-matter. But besides that, becoming 
continually more and more exclusive, it became at the 
same time continually more and more involved, aifected, and 

When a universal artist (such as were some of the Grecian 
artists or the Jewish prophets) composed his work, he naturally 
strove to say what he had to say in such a manner that his 
production should be intelligible to all men. But when an 
artist composed for a small circle of people placed in excep 
tional conditions, or even for a single individual and his 
courtiers, for popes, cardinals, kings, dukes, queens, or for a 
king s mistress, he naturally only aimed at influencing these 
people, who were well known to him, and lived in excep 
tional conditions familiar to him. And this was an easier 
task, and the artist Avas involuntarily drawn to express 
himself by allusions comprehensible only to the initiated, 
and obscure to everyone else. In the first place, more could 
be said in this way ; and secondly, there is (for the initiated) 
even a certain charm in the cloudiness of such a manner of 
expression. This method, which showed itself both in 
euphemism and in mythological and historical allusions, 
came more and more into use, until it has, apparently, at 
last reached its utmost limits in the so-called art of the 
Decadents. It has come, finally, to this : that not only is 
haziness, mysteriousness, obscurity, and exclusiveness (shut 
ting out the masses) elevated to the rank of a merit and a 



condition of poetic art, but even incorrectness, indefiniteness, 
and lack of eloquence are held in esteem. 

Theophile Gautier, in his preface to the celebrated Fleurs 
flu Mai, says that Baudelaire, as far as possible, banished 
from poetry eloquence, passion, and truth too strictly 
copied ("V eloquence, la passion, et la vcrite calquee trop 
exactement "). 

And Baudelaire not only expressed this, but maintained 
his thesis in his verses, and yet more strikingly in the prose 
of his Petits Poemes en Prose, the meanings of which have 
to be guessed like a rebus, and remain for the most part 

The poet Verlaino (who followed next after Baudelaire, 
and was also esteemed great) even wrote an "Art poetique" 
in which he advises this style of composition : 

De la musique arant toute chose, 
Et pour cela -pre fire V Impair 
Plus vague et plus soluble dans I air, 
Sans rien en hii qui pese ou qui pose. 

11 faut aussi que tu n ailles point 
Choisir tes mots sans quelque meprise : 
Rien de plus clier que la chanson grise 
Oil T Indecis au Precis se joint. 

And again : 

De la musique encore et toujours ! 
Que ton vers soit la chose envolee 
Qu on sent qui fuit d une dme en allee 
Vers d autres deux a d autres amours. 


Que ton vers soit la bonne aventure 
Eparse au vent crispe du mati?i, 
Qui va fleurant la menthe el le thym , , . 
Et tout le reste est litterature. 1 

After these two comes Mallarme, considered the most 
important of the young poets, and he plainly says that the 
charm of poetry lies in our having to guess its meaning 
that in poetry there should always be a puzzle : 

Je pense qu il faut qu il n y ait qu allusion, says he. 
La contemplation des oly ets, I image s envolant des reveries 
suscitees par eux, sont le chant : les Parnassiens, eux, 
prennent la chose entierement et la montrent ; par la Us 
manquent de mystere ; Us retirent aux esprits cette joie 
ddlicieuse de croire qu ils crcent. Nommcr un cibjet, c est 
supprimer les trois quarts de lajouissance dupoeme, qui 
est fait e du bonheur de deviner pen a peu: le suggerer, 

1 Music, music before all things 
The eccentric still prefer, 
Vague in air, and nothing weighty, 
Soluble. Yet do not err, 

Choosing words ; still do it lightly, 
Do it too with some contempt ; 
Dearest is the song that s tipsy, 
Clearness, dimness not exempt. 

Music always, now and ever 
Be thy verse the thing that flies 
From a soul that s gone, escaping, 
Gone to other loves and skies. 

Gone to other loves and regions, 
Following fortunes that allure, 
Mint and thyme and morning crispness 
All the rest s mere literature. 


voila le rdve. C est le parfait usage de ce mystere qui 
constitue le symbole : evoquer petit a petit un objet pour 
montrer un etat d dme, ou, inversement, choisir un objet et 
en ddgager un etat d dme, par une serie de dlchiffrements. 

. . . Si un etre d une intelligence moyenne, et d une 
preparation litteraire insuffisante, ouvre par hasard un livre 
ainsi fait et pretend en jouir, il y a malentendu, il faut 
remettre les choses a leur place. II doit y avoir toujours 
tfnigme en poesie, et c est le but de la literature, il n y en 
a pas d autre, d" evoquer les objets. "Enquete sur I evolution 
litteraire," Jules Huret, pp. 60, 61. 1 

Thus is obscurity elevated into a dogma among the new 
poets. As the French critic Doumic (who has not yet 
accepted the dogma) quite correctly says : 

11 11 serait temps aussi d enfinir avec cettefameuse l theorie 
de I obscurite que la nouvelle ecole a elevee, en effet, d la 
hauteur d un dogme." Les Jeunes, par Ren6 Doumic. 2 

But it is not French writers only who think thus. The 

1 I think there should be nothing but allusions. The contemplation 
of objects, the flying image of reveries evoked by them, are the song. 
The Parnassians state the thing completely, and show it, and thereby 
lack mystery ; they deprive the mind of that delicious joy of imagining 
that it creates. To name an object is to take three-quarters from the 
enjoyment of the poem, which consists in the happiness of guessing little 
by little : to suggest, that is the dream. It is the perfect use of this 
mystery that constitutes the symbol : little by little, to evoke an 
object in order to show a state of the soul ; or inversely, to choose an 
object, and from it to disengage a state of the soul by a series of 

... If a being of mediocre intelligence and insufficient literary 
preparation chance to open a book made in this way and pretends to 
enjoy it, there is a misunderstanding things must be returned to 
their places. There should always be an enigma in poetry, and the 
aim of literature it has no other is to evoke objects. 

2 It were time also to have done with this famous "theory of 
obscurity," which the new school have practically raised to the height 
of a dogma. 


poets of all other countries think and act in the same way : 
German, and Scandinavian, and Italian, and Russian, and 
English. So also do the artists of the new period in all 
branches of art : in painting, in sculpture, and in music. 
Relying on Nietzsche and Wagner, the artists of the new 
age conclude that it is unnecessary for them to be intelli 
gible to the vulgar crowd ; it is enough for them to evoke 
poetic emotion in "the finest nurtured," to borrow a phrase 
from an English aesthetician. 

In order that what I am saying may not seem to be 
mere assertion, I will quote at least a few examples from 
the French poets who have led this movement. The name 
of these poets is legion. I have taken French writers, 
because they, more decidedly than any others, indicate the 
new direction of art, and are imitated by most European 

Besides those whose names are already considered famous, 
such as Baudelaire and Yerlaine, here are the names of a 
few of them : Jean Moreas, Charles Morice, Henri de 
Regnier, Charles Vignier, Adrien Remade, Rene Ghil, 
Maurice Maeterlinck, G. Albert Aurier, Eemy de Gour- 
mont, Saint-Pol-Roux-le-Magnifique, Georges Rodenbach, 
le comte Robert de Montesquiou-Fezensac. These are 
Symbolists and Decadents. Next we have the "Magi": 
Josephin Peladan, Paul Adam, Jules Bois, M. Papus, 
and others. 

Besides these, there are yet one hundred and forty-one 
others, whom Dournic mentions in the book referred to 

Here are some examples from the work of those of 
them who are considered to be the best, beginning with 
that most celebrated man, acknowledged to be a great 
artist worthy of a monument Baudelaire. This is a 
poem from his celebrated Fleurs du Mai : 


No. XXIV. 

Je t adore a Tcgal de la voute nocturne, 

vase de tristesse, 6 grande taciturne, 

Et t aime d autant plus, belle, que tu me fuis, 

Et que tu me parais, ornement de mes nuits, 

Plus ironiquement accumuler les lieues 

Qui separent mes bras des immensites bleues. 

Je m avance a Vattaque, et je yrimpe aux assauts, 
Comme apres un cadavre un choeur de vermisseaux, 
Et je cheris, o b< te implacable et cruelle, 
Jusqu a cette froideur par ou tu m es plus belle ! l 

And this is another by the same writer : 

No. XXX VI. 


Deux guerriers ont couru Vun sur Vautre ; leurs armes 
Out eclabousse I air de lueurs et de sang. 
<~!es jeux, ces cliquetis du fer sont les vacarmes 
Uune jeunesse en proie a V amour vagissant. 

Les glaives sont brises ! comme noire jeunesse, 
Ma chere ! Mais les dents, les angles aceres, 
Vengent bientot I epee et la dague traitresse. 
O fureur des cceurs murs par I* amour ulcer es / 

Dans le ravin Jiante des chats-pards et des onces 
Nos heros, s etreig?iant mecliamment, ont roule, 
Et leur peau fleurira Varidite des ronces. 

1 For translation, see Appendix IV. 


Ce go tiff re, c est 1 enfer, de nos amis peuple! 
Roulons-y sans remords, amazone inliumaine, 
A fin d eterniser Tar dew de uotre liaine ! l 

To be exact, I should mention that the collection contains 
verses less comprehensible than these, but not one poem 
which is plain and can be understood without a certain 
effort an effort seldom rewarded, for the feelings which 
the poet transmits are evil and very low ones. And these 
feelings are always, and purposely, expressed by him with 
eccentricity and lack of clearness. This premeditated obscu 
rity is especially noticeable in his prose, where the author 
could, if he liked, speak plainly. 

Take, for instance, the first piece from his Petits 
Poemes : 


Qui aimes-tu le mieux, liomme enigmatique, dis? ton per e, 
ta mere, ta soeur, ou ton fr ere ? 

Je n ai ni pere,, ni soeur, nifrere. 

Tes amis ? 

Vous vous servez la d une parole dont le sens iriest reste 
jusyu a ce jour inconnu. 

Ta patrie ? 

J ignore sous quelle latitude elle est situee. 

La leaute ? 

Je I aiinerais volontiers, deesse et immortelle, 

L or ? 

Je le hais comme vous lia issez Dieu. 

Et qu aimes-tu done, extraordinaire Stranger ? 

J aime lex nuayes . . . les nuages qui passent . . . Id 
bas, . . . les merveilleux nuages ! l 

The piece called La Soupe et les Nuages is probably 
] For translation, see Appendix IV. 


intended to express the unintelligibility of the poet even to 
her whom he loves. This is the piece in question : 

Ma petite folle bien-aimee me donnait a diner, et par la 
f entire ouverte de la salle a manger je contemplais les 
mouvantes architectures que Dieu fait avec les vapeurs, les 
merveilleuses constructions de ^impalpable. Et je me disais, 
a tr avers ma contemplation : " Toutes ces fantasmagories 
sont presque aussi belles que les yeux de ma belle bien-aimee, 
la petite folle monstrueuse aux yeux verts." 

Et tout a coup je recus un violent coup de poing dans le 
dos, et fentendis une voix rauque et cliarmante, une voix 
hysterique et comme enrouee par I eau-de-vie, la voix de ma 
chere petite bien-aimee, qui me disait, " Allez-vous bientot 
manger votre soupe, s .... b .... de marchand de 
nuages ?" 1 

However artificial these two pieces may be, it is still 
possible, with some effort, to guess at what the author 
meant them to express, but some of the pieces are absolutely 
incomprehensible at least to me. Le Galant Tireur is a 
piece I was quite unable to understand. 


Comme la voiture traversait le bois, il la fit arreter dans 
le voisinage d un tir, disant qu il lui serait agrcable de tirer 
quelques balles pour tuer le Temps. Tuer ce monstre-ld, 
n est-cepas ^occupation la plus ordinaire et la plus legitime 
de chacun ? Et il offrit galamment la main a sa chere, 
delicieuse et execrable femme, d cette mysterieuse femme a 
laquelle il doit tant de plaisirs, tant de douleurs, et peut-etre 
aussi une grande partie de son genie. 

1 For translation, see Appendix IV. 


Plusieurs balles frapperent loin du but propose, I une 
d elles s enfonpa meme dans le plafond ; et comme la char- 
mante creature riait follement, se moquant de la maladresse 
de son epoux, celui-ci se tourna brusquement vers elle, et lui 
dit : " Observez cette poupee, la-bas, a droite, qui porte le nez 
en fair et qui a la mine si Jiautaine. Eh bien ! cher ange, 
je me figure que c est vous." Et il ferma les yeux et il Idcha 
la detente. La poupee fut nettement decapitee. 

Alors s indinant vers sa chere, sa delicieuse, son execrable 
femme, son inevitable et impitoyable Muse, et lui baisant 
respectueusement la main, il ajouta : " Ah ! mon cher ange, 
combienje vous remercie de mon adresse ! " l 

The productions of another celebrity, Verlaine, are not 
less affected and unintelligible. This, for instance, is the 
first poem in the section called Ariettes Oubliees. 

" Le vent dans la plaine 

Suspend son hat cine." FAVART. 

C est I extase langoureuse, 
C est la fatigue amoureuse, 
C est tous les frissons des bois 
Parmi I etreinte des brises, 
C est, vers les ramures grimes, 
Le chcvur des petit es voix. 

le frcle et frais murmure ! 
Cela gazouille et ttusurre, 
Cela ressemble au cri doux 
Que I herbe agitee expire . . . 
Tu dirais, sous Veau qui vire, 
Le roulis sourd des cailloux. 

1 For translation, see Appendix IV. 


Cette dme qui se lamente 
En cette plainte dormante 
C est la notre, riest-ce pas ? 
La mienne, dis, et la tienne, 
Dont s exhale Vhumble antienne 
Pur ce tiede soir, tout bas ? 1 

What "chceur des petites voix >f t and what " cri doiux 
que rherbe agitee expire " 1 and what it all means, remains 
altogether unintelligible to me. 

And here is another Ariette : 


Dans V interminable 
Ennui de la plaine, 
La neige incertaine 
Luit comme du sable. 

Le del est de cuivre, 
Sans lueur aucune. 
On croirait voir vivre 
Et mourir la lune. 

Comme des nuees 
Flottent gris les clienes 
Des forets procnaines 
Parmi les buees. 

Le del est de cuivre, 
Sans lueur aucune. 
On croirait voir vivre 
Et mourir la lune. 

For translation, see Appendix IV 


Corneille poussive 
Et vous, les loups maigres, 
Par ces bises aigres 
Quoi done vous arrive ? 

Dans V interminable 
Ennui de la plaine, 
La neige incertaine 
Luit comme du sable. 1 

How does the moon seem to live and die in a copper 
heaven "? And how can snow shine like sand 1 The whole 
thing is not merely unintelligible, but, under pretence of 
conveying an impression, it passes off a string of incorrect 
comparisons and words. 

Besides these artificial and obscure poems, there are 
others which are intelligible, but which make up for it by 
being altogether bad, both in form and in subject. Such 
arc all the poems under the heading La Sagesse. The chief 
place in these verses is occupied by a very poor expression of 
the most commonplace Roman Catholic and patriotic senti 
ments. For instance, one meets with verses such as this : 

Je ne veux plus penser qu a ma mere Mane, 
Siege de la sagesse et source de pardons, 
Mere de France aussi de qui nous attentions 
Intibranlablement I honneur de la patrie. 2 

Before citing examples from other poets, T must pause to 

1 For translation, see Appendix I V. 

2 I do not wish to think any more, except about my mother 


Seat of wisdom and source of pardon, 
Also Mother of France, from ivliom ice 
Steadfastly expect the honour of our country. 


note the amazing celebrity of these two versifiers, Baudelaire 
and Verlaine, who are now accepted as being great poets. 
How the French, who had Ch6nier, Musset, Lamartine, and, 
above all, Hugo, and among whom quite recently flourished 
the so-called Parnassiens: Leconte de Lisle, Sully-Prud- 
homme, etc., could attribute such importance to these two 
versifiers, who were far from skilful in form and most con 
temptible and commonplace in subject-matter, is to me incom 
prehensible. The conception-of-lif e of one of them, Baudelaire, 
consisted in elevating gross egotism into a theory, and 
replacing morality by a cloudy conception of beauty, and 
especially artificial beauty. Baudelaire had a preference, 
which he expressed, for a woman s face painted rather than 
showing its natural colour, and for metal trees and a 
theatrical imitation of water rather than real trees and 
real water. 

The life-conception of the other, Yerlaine, consisted in 
weak profligacy, confession of his moral impotence, and, 
as an antidote to that impotence, in the grossest Roman 
Catholic idolatry. Both, moreover, were quite lacking in 
naivete, sincerity, and simplicity, and both overflowed with 
artificiality, forced originality, and self-assurance. So that 
in their least bad productions one sees more of M. Baude 
laire or M. Yerlaine than of what they were describing. 
But these two indifferent versifiers form a school, and lead 
hundreds of followers after them. 

There is only one explanation of this fact : it is that the 
art of the society in which these versifiers lived is not a 
serious, important matter of life, but is a mere 

And all amusements grow wearisome by repetition 4 . 
in order to make wearisome amusement again tolerable, it 
is necessary to find some means to freshen it up. When, 
at cards, ombre grows stale, whist is introduced ; when whist 
grows stale, ecarte is substituted ; when ecart6 grows stale, 
some other novelty is invented, and so on. The substance 


of the matter remains the same, only its form is changed. 
And so it is with this kind of art. The subject-matter of the 
art of the upper classes growing continually more and more 
limited, it has come at last to this, that to the artists of these 
exclusive classes it seems as if everything has already been 
said, and that to find anything new to say is impossible. 
And therefore, to freshen up this art, they look out for 
fresh forms. 

Baudelaire and Verlaine invent such a new form, furbish 
it up, moreover, with hitherto unused pornographic details, 
and the critics and the public of the upper classes hail 
them as great writers. 

This is the only explanation of the success, not of 
Baudelaire and Verlaine only, but of all the Decadents. 

For instance, there are poems by Mallarme and Maeterlinck 
which have no meaning, and yet for all that, or perhaps on 
that very account, are printed by tens of thousands, not 
only in various publications, but even in collections of the 
best works of the younger poets. 

Tliis, for example, is a sonnet by Mallarme : 

A la nue accablante tu 
Basse de basalte et de laves 
A meme les eclws esclaves 
Par une trompe sans vertu. 

Quel scpulcral naufrage (tu 
Le soir, ecume, mais y laves) 
Supreme une entre les tpaves 
Abolit le mat devetu. 

Ou cela gue furibond faute 
De quelque perdition haute 
Tout I abime vain eploye 


Dans le si blanc clieveu qui trame 

Avarement aura noye 

Le flanc enfant d une sirene. 1 

("Pan," 1895, No. 1.) 

Tliis poem is not exceptional in its incomprehensibility. 
I have read several poems by Mallarme, and they also had 
no meaning whatever. I give a sample of his prose in 
Appendix I. There is a whole volume of this prose, called 
"Divagations." It is impossible to understand any of it. 
And that is evidently what the author intended. 

And here is a song by Maeterlinck, another celebrated 
author of to-day: 

Quand il est sorfi, 
(J entendis la porte) 
Quand il est sorti 
Elle avait souri . . . 

Mais quand il entra 
(J entendis la lampe] 
Mais quand il entra 
Une autre etait la . . . 

Et fai vu la mort, 
(J entendis wn dme) 
Et fai vu la mu,"t 
Qui Vattend encore . . . 

On est venu dire, 
(Mon enfant fai peur) 
On est venu dire 
Qu il allait partir . . . 

1 This sonnet seems too unintelligible for translation. Trans. 


Ma lampe alluniee, 
(Mori enfant fai peur) 
Ma lampe allumee 
Me suis approchee . . . 

A la premiere porte, 
(Mon enfant fai peur) 
A la premiere porte, 
La flamme a tremble . . . 

A la seconde porte, 
(Mon enfant fai peur} 
A la seconde porte, 
La flamme a parle . . . 

A la troisi eme porte, 
(Mon enfant fai peur) 
A la troisieme porte, 
La lumiere est morte . . . 

Et s il revenait un jour 
Que faut-il lui dire ? 
Dites-lui qu on Tattendit 
Jusqu a s j en mourir . . . 

Et s il demande ou vous etes 
Que faut-il rcpondre ? 
Donnez-lui mon anneau d or 
Sans rien lui repondre . . . 

Et s il m interroge alors 
Sur la dernikre heure ? 
Dites lui que fai souri 
De peur qu il ne pleure . . . 


Et s il m interroge encore 
Sans me reconnaitre ? 
Parlez-lui comme une soeur, 
II souffre peut-etre . . . 

Et s il veut savoir pourquoi 
La salle est deserte ? 
Montrez lui la lampe t teinte 
Et la porte ouverte . . - 1 

("Pan," 1895, No. 2.) 

Who went out ? Who came in ? Who is speaking ? Who 

I beg the reader to be at the pains of reading through 
the samples I cite in Appendix II. of the celebrated and 
esteemed young poets Griffin, Verhaeren, More"as, and 
Montesquieu. It is important to do so in order to form a 
clear conception of the present position of art, and not to 
suppose, as many do, that Decadentism is an accidental and 
transitory phenomenon. To avoid the reproach of having 
selected the worst verses, I have copied out of each volume 
the poem which happened to stand on page 28. 

All the other productions of these poets are equally un 
intelligible, or can only be understood with great difficulty, 
and then not fully. All the productions of those hundreds 
of poets, of whom I have named a few, are the same in kind. 
And among the Germans, Swedes, Norwegians, Italians, and 
us Russians, similar verses are printed. And such produc 
tions are printed and made up into book form, if not by the 
million, then by the hundred thousand (some of these works 
sell in tens of thousands). For type-setting, paging, printing, 
and binding these books, millions and millions of working 
days are spent not less, I think, than went to build the 
1 For translation, see Appendix IV. 


great pyramid. And this is not all. The same is going on 
in all the other arts : millions and millions of working 
days are being spent on the production of equally 
incomprehensible works in painting, in music, and in the 

Painting not only does not lag behind poetry in this 
matter, but rather outstrips it. Here is an extract from 
the diary of an amateur of art, written when visiting the 
Paris exhibitions in 1894 : 

" I was to-day at three exhibitions : the Symbolists , the 
Impressionists , and the Neo-Impressionists . I looked at 
the pictures conscientiously and carefully, but again felt the 
same stupefaction and ultimate indignation. The first 
exhibition, that of Camille Pissarro, was comparatively the 
most comprehensible, though the pictures were out of 
drawing, had no subject, and the colourings were most 
improbable. The drawing was so indefinite that you were 
sometimes unable to make out which way an arm or a head 
was turned. The subject was generally, effets Effet de 
brouillard, Effet du soir, Soleil coucliant. There were some 
pictures with figures, but without subjects. 

" In the colouring, bright blue and bright green predomi 
nated. And each picture had its special colour, with which 
the whole picture was, as it were, splashed. For instance in 
A Girl guarding Geese the special colour is vert de gris, and 
dots of it were splashed about everywhere : on the face, 
the hair, the hands, and the clothes. In the same gallery 
Durand Ruel were other pictures, by Puvis de Chavannes, 
Manet, Monet, Renoir, Sisley who are all Impressionists. 
One of them, whose name I could not make out, it was 
something like Redon, had painted a blue face in profile. 
On the whole face there is only this blue tone, with white- 
of-lead. Pissarro has a water-colour all done in dots. In the 
foreground is a cow entirely painted with various-coloured 
dots. The general colour cannot be distinguished, however 


much one stands back from, or draws near to, the picture. 
From there I went to see the Symbolists. I looked at them 
long without asking anyone for an explanation, trying to 
guess the meaning ; but it is beyond human comprehension. 
One of the first things to catch my eye was a wooden liaut- 
reUef, wretchedly executed, representing a woman (naked) 
who with both hands is squeezing from her two breasts 
streams of blood. The blood flows down, becoming lilac in 
colour. Her hair first descends and then rises again and 
turns into trees. The figure is all coloured yellow, and the 
hair is brown. 

"Next a picture : a yellow sea, on which swims something 
which is neither a ship nor a heart; on the horizon is a 
profile with a halo and yellow hair, which changes into a sea, 
in which it is lost. Some of the painters lay on their 
colours so thickly that the effect is something between 
painting and sculpture. A third exhibit was even less 
comprehensible : a man s profile ; before him a flame and 
black stripes leeches, as I was afterwards told. At last I 
asked a gentleman who was there what it meant, and he 
explained to me that the liaut-relief was a symbol, and that 
it represented La Terre. The heart swimming in a yellow 
sea was Illusion perdue, and the gentleman with the leeches 
was Le Mai. There were also some Impressionist pictures : 
elementary profiles, holding some sort of flowers in their 
hands : in monotone, out of drawing, and either quite blurred 
or else marked out with wide black outlines." 

This was in 1894; the same tendency is now even more 
strongly defined, and we have Bocklin, Stuck, Klinger, 
Sasha Schneider, and others. 

The same thing is taking place in the drama. The play- 
writers give us an architect who, for some reason, has not 
fulfilled his former high intentions, and who consequently 
climbs on to the roof of a house he has erected and tumbles 
down head foremost; or an incomprehensible old woman 


(who exterminates rats), and who, for an unintelligible 
reason, takes a poetic child to the sea and there drowns 
him; or some blind men, who, sitting on the seashore, for 
some reason always repeat one and the same thing ; or a bell 
of some kind, which flies into a lake and there rings. 

And the same is happening in music in that art which, 
more than any other, one would have thought, should be 
intelligible to everybody. 

An acquaintance of yours, a musician of repute, sits down 
to the piano and plays you what he says is a new com 
position of his own, or of one of the new composers. You 
hear the strange, loud sounds, and admire the gymnastic 
exercises performed by his fingers ; and you see that the 
performer wishes to impress upon you that the sounds he is 
producing express various poetic strivings of the soul. You 
see his intention, but no feeling whatever is transmitted to 
you except weariness. The execution lasts long, or at least 
it seems very long to you, because you do not receive any 
clear impression, and involuntarily you remember the words 
of Alphonse Karr, " Plus $a va vite, plus $a dure longtemps" l 
And it occurs to you that perhaps it is all a mystification ; 
perhaps the performer is trying you just throwing his 
hands and fingers wildly about the key-board in the hope 
that you will fall into the trap and praise him, and then 
he will laugh and confess that he only wanted to see if 
he could hoax you. But when at last the piece does 
finish, and the perspiring and agitated musician rises from 
the piano evidently anticipating praise, you see that it was 
all done in earnest. 

The same thing takes place at all the concerts with pieces 
by Liszt, Wagner, Berlioz, Brahms, and (newest of all) 
Richard Strauss, and the numberless other composers of 
the new school, who unceasingly produce opera after opera, 
symphony after symphony, piece after piece. 

1 The quicker it goes the longer it lasts. 


The same is occurring in a domain in which it seemed hard 
to be unintelligible in the sphere of novels and short stories. 

Read La - Bas by Huysmans, or some of Kipling s 
short stories, or L annonciateur by Villiers de 1 Isle Adam 
in his Contes Gruels, etc., and you will find them not only 
" abscons " (to use a word adopted by the neAv writers), but 
absolutely unintelligible both in form and in substance. 
Such, again, is the work by E. Morel, Terre Promise, now 
appearing in the Revue Blanche, and such are most of 
the new novels. The style is very high-flown, the feelings 
seem to be most elevated, but you can t make out what is 
happening, to whom it is happening, and where it is happen 
ing. And such is the bulk of the young art of our time. 

People who grew up in the first half of this century, 
admiring Goethe, Schiller, Musset, Hugo, Dickens, 
Beethoven, Chopin, Raphael, da Vinci, Michael Angelo, 
Deiaroche, being unable to make head or tail of this new 
art, simply attribute its productions to tasteless insanity and 
wish to ignore them. But such an attitude towards this 
new art is quite unjustifiable, because, in the first place, 
that art is spreading more and more, and has already 
conquered for itself a firm position in society, similar to 
the one occupied by the Romanticists in the third decade 
of this century ; and secondly and chiefly, because, if it is 
permissible to judge in this way of the productions of the 
latest form of art, called by us Decadent art, merely because 
we do not understand it, then remember, there are an 
enormous number of people, all the labourers and many of 
the non-labouring folk, who, in just the same way, do not 
comprehend those productions of art which we consider 
admirable : the verses of our favourite artists Goethe, 
Schiller, and Hugo; the novels of Dickens, the music of 
Beethoven and Chopin, the pictures of Raphael, Michael 
Angelo, da Vinci, etc. 

If I have a right to think that great masses of people do 


not understand and do not like what I consider undoubtedly 
good because they are not sufficiently developed, then I 
have no right to deny that perhaps the reason why I can 
not understand and cannot like the new productions of 
art, is merely that I am still insufficiently developed to 
understand them. If I have a right to say that I, and the 
majority of people who are in sympathy, with me, do not 
understand the productions of the new art simply because 
there is nothing in it to understand and because it is bad 
art, then, with just the same right, the still larger majority,, 
the whole labouring mass, who do not understand what I 
consider admirable art, can say that what I reckon as good 
art is bad art, and there is nothing in it to understand. 

I once saw the injustice of such condemnation of the new 
art with especial clearness, when, in my presence, a certain 
poet, who writes incomprehensible verses, ridiculed incom 
prehensible music with gay self-assurance ; and, shortly after 
wards, a certain musician, who composes incomprehensible 
symphonies, laughed at incomprehensible poetry with equal 
self-confidence. I have no right, and no authority, to 
condemn the new art on the ground that I (a man educated 
in the first half of the century) do not understand it ; I can 
only say that it is incomprehensible to me. The only 
advantage the art I acknowledge has over the Decadent 
art, lies in the fact that the art I recognise is comprehensible 
to a somewhat larger number of people than the present- 
day art. 

The fact that I am accustomed to a certain exclusive art, 
and can understand it, but am unable to understand 
another still more exclusive art, does not give me a right to 
conclude that my art is the real true art, and that the other 
one, which I do not understand, is an unreal, a bad art. I 
can only conclude that art, becoming ever more and more 
exclusive, has become more and more incomprehensible to 
an ever-increasing number of people, and that, in this its 


progress towards greater and greater incomprehensibility 
(on one level of which I am standing, with the art familiar 
to me), it has reached a point where it is understood by a 
very small number of the elect, and the number of these 
chosen people is ever becoming smaller and smaller. 

As soon as ever the art of the upper classes separated 
itself from universal art, a conviction arose that art may 
be art and yet be incomprehensible to the masses. And 
as soon as this position was admitted, it had inevitably 
to be admitted also that art may be intelligible only 
to the very smallest number of the elect, and, event 
ually, to two, or to one, of our nearest friends, or to one 
self alone. Which is practically what is being said by 
modern artists: "I create and understand myself, and if 
anyone does not understand me, so much the worse for 

The assertion that art may be good art, and at the same 
time incomprehensible to a great number of people, is ex 
tremely unjust, and its consequences are ruinous to art itself ; 
but at the same time it is so common and has so eaten into 
our conceptions, that it is impossible sufficiently to elucidate 
all the absurdity of it. 

Nothing is more common than to hear it said of reputed 
works of art, that they are very good but very difficult 
to understand. We are quite used to such assertions, and 
yet to say that a work of art is good, but incomprehen 
sible to the majority of men, is the same as saying of some 
kind of food that it is very good but that most people 
-can t eat it. The majority of men may not like rotten 
cheese or putrefying grouse dishes esteemed by people with 
perverted tastes; but bread and fruit are only good when 
they please the majority of men. And it is the same with 
-art. Perverted art may not please the majority of men, but 
(good art always pleases everyone. 

It is said that the very best works of art are such that 


they cannot be understood by the mass, but are accessible 
only to the elect who are prepared to understand these great 
works. But if the majority of men do not understand, the 
knowledge necessary to enable them to understand should 
be taught and explained to them. But it turns out that 
there is no such knowledge, that the works cannot be 
explained, and that those who say the majority do not 
understand good works of art, still do not explain those 
works, but only tell us that, in order to understand them, 
one must read, and see, and hear these same works over 
and over again. But this is not to explain, it is only to 
habituate ! And people may habituate themselves to any 
thing, even to the very worst things. As people may habitu 
ate themselves to bad food, to spirits, tobacco/ and opium, 
just in the same way they may habituate themselves _to bad 
art and that is exactly what is being done. 

Moreover, it cannot be said that the majority of people 
lack the taste to esteem the highest works of art. The 
majority always have understood, and still understand, what 
we also recognise as being the very best art : the epic of 
Genesis, the Gospel parables, folk-legends, fairy-tales, and 
folk-songs are understood by all. How can it be that the 
majority has suddenly lost its capacity to understand what 
is high in our art "? 

Of a speech it may be said that it is admirable, but in 
comprehensible to those who do not know the language in 
which it is delivered. A speech delivered in Chinese may 
be excellent, and may yet remain incomprehensible to me 
if I do not know Chinese ; but what distinguishes a work of 
art from all other mental activity is just the fact that its 
language is understood by all, and that it infects all without 
distinction. The tears and laughter of a Chinese infect me 
just as the laughter and tears of a Russian ; and it is the 
same with painting and music and poetry, when it is trans 
lated into a language I understand. The songs of a Kirghiz 


or of a Japanese touch me, though in a lesser degree than 
they touch a Kirghiz or a Japanese. I am also touched by 
Japanese painting, Indian architecture, and Arabian stories. 
If I am but little touched by a Japanese song and a Chinese 
novel, it is not that I do not understand these productions, 
but that I know and am accustomed to higher works of 
art. It is not because their art is above me. Grea.t works 
./..,. of art are only great because they are accessible and compre 
hensible to everyone. The story of Joseph, translated into 
the Chinese language, touches a Chinese. The story of Sakya 
Muni touches us. And there are, and must bo, buildings, 
pictures, statues, and music of similar power. So that, if art 
fails to move men, it cannot be said that this is due to the 
spectators or hearers lack of understanding ; but the con 
clusion to be drawn may, and should be, that such art is 
either bad art, or is not art at all. 

Art is differentiated from activity of the understanding, 
which demands preparation and a certain sequence of know 
ledge (so that one cannot learn trigonometry before knowing 
geometry), by the fact that it acts on people independently of 
their state of development and education, that the charm of 
a picture, of sounds, or of forms, infects any man whatever 
his plane of development. 

The business of art lies just in this to make that under 
stood and felt which, in the form of an argument, might be 
incomprehensible and inaccessible. Usually it seems to the 
recipient of a truly artistic impression that he knew the thing 
before but had been unable to express it. 

And such has always been the nature of good, supreme art ; 
the Iliad, the Odyssey, the stories of Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph, 
the Hebrew prophets, the psalms, the Gospel parables, the 
story of Sakya Muni, and the hymns of the Vedas : all transmit 
very elevated feelings, and are nevertheless quite compre 
hensible now to us, educated or uneducated, as they were com 
prehensible to the men of those times, long ago, who were 


even less educated than our labourers. People talk about 
incomprehensibility ; but if art is the transmission of feelings 
flowing from man s religious perception, how can a feeling 
be incomprehensible which is founded on religion, i.e. on 
man s relation to God ? Such art should be, and has actually, 
always been, comprehensible to everybody, because every 
man s relation to God is one and the same. And therefore 
the churches and the images in them were always compre 
hensible to everyone. The hindrance to understanding the 
best and highest feelings (as is said in the gospel) does not at 
all lie in deficiency of development or learning, but, on the 
contrary, in false development and false learning. A good V 
and lofty work of art may be incomprehensible, but not to \ 
simple, unperverted peasant labourers (all that is highest is I 
understood by them) it may be, and often is, unintelligible 
to erudite, perverted people destitute of religion. And this 
continually occurs in our society, in which the highest feelings 
are simply not understood. For instance, I know people 
who consider themselves most refined, and who say that 
they do not understand the poetry of love to one s neighbour, 
of self-sacrifice, or of chastity. 

So that good, great, universal, religious art may be incom- , 
prehensible to a small circle of spoilt people, but certainly 
not to any large number of plain men. 

Art cannot be incomprehensible to the great masses 
only because it is very good, as artists of our day are fond 
of telling us. Rather we are bound to conclude that this 
art is unintelligible to the great masses only because it is 
very bad art, or even is not art at all. So that the favourite 
argument (naively accepted by the cultured crowd), that in 
order to feel art one has first to understand it (which 
really only means habituate oneself to it), is the truest 
indication that what we are asked to understand by such 
a method is either very bad, exclusive art, or is not art 
at all. 


People say that works of art do not please the people 
becauste they are incapable of understanding them. But if 
the aim of works of art is to infect people with the emotion 
the artist has experienced, how can one talk about not 
understanding 1 

A man of the people reads a book, sees a picture, hears a 
play or a symphony, and is touched by no feeling. He is 
told that this is because he cannot understand. People 
promise to let a man see a certain show ; he enters and sees 
nothing. He is told that this is because his sight is not 
prepared for this show. But the man well knows that he 
sees quite well, and if he does not see what people promised 
to show him, he only concludes (as is quite just) that those 
who undertook to show him the spectacle have not fulfilled 
their engagement. And it is perfectly just for a man who 
does feel the influence of some works of art to come to this 
conclusion concerning artists who do not, by their works, 
evoke feeling in him. To say that the reason a man is not 
touched by my art is because he is still too stupid, besides 
being very self-conceited and also rude, is to reverse the 
roles, and for the sick to send the hale to bed. 

Voltaire said that " Tons les genres sont Ions, Tiors le 
genre ennuyeux " ; 1 but with even more right one may say 
of art that Tons les genres sons Ions, liors celui qu on ne 
comprend pas, or qui ne produit pas son e/et, 2 for of 
what value is an article which fails to do that for which 
it was intended? 

Mark this above all : if only it be admitted that art 
may be art and yet be unintelligible to anyone of sound 
mind, there is no reason why any circle of perverted people 
should not compose works tickling their own perverted 
feelings and comprehensible to no one but themselves, and 

1 All styles are good except the wearisome style. 

2 All styles are good except that which is not understood, or which 
fails to produce its effect. 


call it " art," as is actually being done by the so-called 

The direction art has taken may be compared to 
placing on a large circle other circles, smaller and smaller,/ 
until a cone is formed, the apex of which is no longer al 
circle at all. That is what has happened to the art of our^ 



BECOMING ever poorer and poorer in subject-matter and 
more and more unintelligible in form, the art of the upper 
classes, in its latest productions, has even lost all the 
characteristics of art, and has been replaced by imitations 
of art. Not only has upper-class art, in consequence of its 
separation from universal art, become poor in subject-matter 
and bad in form, i.e. ever more and more unintelligible, it 
has, in course of time, ceased even to be art at all, and has 
been replaced by counterfeits. 

This has resulted from the following causes. Universal art 
arises only when some one of the people, having experienced 
a strong emotion, feels the necessity of transmitting it to 
others. The art of the rich classes, on the other hand, 
arises not from the artist s inner impulse, but chiefly because 
people of the upper classes demand amusement and pay well 
for it. They demand from art the transmission of feelings 
that please them, and this demand artists try to meet. But 
it is a very difficult task, for people of the wealthy classes, 
spending their lives in idleness and luxury, desire to be 
continually diverted by art; and art, even the lowest, 
cannot be produced at will, but has to generate spontaneously 
in the artist s inner self. And therefore, to satisfy the 
demands of people of the upper classes, artists have had to 
devise methods of producing imitations of art. And such 
methods have been devised. 

These methods are those of (1) borrowing, (2) imitating, 
(3) striking (effects), and (4) interesting. 


WHAT 2S ART? 107 

The first method consists in borrowing whole subjects, or 
merely separate features, from former works recognised by every 
one as being poetical, and in so re-shaping them, with sundry 
additions, that they should have an appearance of novelty. 

Such works, evoking in people of a certain class memories 
of artistic feelings formerly experienced, produce an impres 
sion -similar to art, and, provided only that they conform to 
other needful conditions, they pass for art among those who 
seek for pleasure from art. Subjects borrowed from previous 
works of art are usually called poetical subjects. Objects 
and people thus borrowed are called poetical objects and 
people. Thus, in our circle, all sorts of legends, sagas, 
and ancient traditions are considered poetical subjects. 
Among poetical people and objects we reckon maidens, 
warriors, shepherds, hermits, angels, devils of all sorts, moon 
light, thunder, mountains, the sea, precipices, flowers, long 
hair, lions, lambs, doves, and nightingales. In general, all 
those objects are considered poetical which have been most 
frequently used by former artists in their productions. 

Some forty years ago a stupid but highly cultured ay ant 
beaucoup d acquis lady (since deceased) asked me to listen 
to a novel written by herself. It began with a heroine who, 
in a poetic white dress, and with poetically flowing hair, 
was reading poetry near some water in a poetic wood. 
The scene was in Russia, but suddenly from behind the 
bushes the hero appears, wearing a hat with a feather a la 
Guillaume Tell (the book specially mentioned this) and 
accompanied by two poetical white dogs. The authoress 
deemed all this highly poetical, and it might have passed 
rnuster if only it had not been necessary for the hero to 
speak. But as soon as the gentleman in the hat a la 
Guillaume Tell began to converse with the maiden in the 
white dress, it became obvious that the authoress had 
nothing to say, but had merely been moved by poetic 
memories of other works, and imagined that by ringing the 


changes on those memories she could produce an artistic 
impression. But an artistic impression, i.e. infection, is 
only received when an author has, in the manner ...peculiar 
to himself, experienced the feeling which he transmits, and 
not when he passes on another man s feeling previously 
transmitted to him. Such poetry from poetry cannot infect 
people, it can only simulate a work of art, and even that 
only to people of perverted aesthetic taste. The lady in 
question being very stupid and devoid of talent, it was at 
once apparent how the case stood ; but when such borrowing 
is resorted to by people who are erudite and talented and have 
cultivated the technique of their art, we get those borrow 
ings from the Greek, the antique, the Christian or mytho 
logical world which have become so numerous, and which, 
particularly in our day, continue to increase and multiply, 
and are accepted by the public as works of art, if only the 
borrowings are well mounted by means of the technique of 
the particular art to which they belong. 

As a characteristic example of such counterfeits of art 
in the realm of poetry, take Eostand s Princesse Lointaine, 
in which there is not a spark of art, but which seems very 
poetical to many people, and probably also to its author. 

The second method of imparting a semblance of art is 
that which I have called imitating. The essence of this 
method consists in supplying details accompanying the thing 
described or depicted. In literary art this method consists 
in describing, in the minutest details, the external appear 
ance, the faces, the clothes, the gestures, the tones, and the 
habitations of the characters represented, with all the occur J 
rences met with in life. For instance, in novels and stories, 
when one of the characters speaks we are told in what voice 
he spoke, and what he was doing at the time. And the 
things said are not given so that they should have as much 
sense as possible, but, as they are in life, disconnectedly, 
and with interruptions and omissions. In dramatic art, 


besides such imitation of real speech, this method consists 
in having all the accessories and all the people just like 
those in real life. In painting this method assimilates 
painting to photography and destroys the difference between 
them. And, strange to say, this method is used also in 
music : music tries to imitate not only by its rhythm but 
also by its very sounds, the sounds which in real life accom 
pany the thing it wishes to represent. 

The third method is by action, often purely physical, on 
the outer senses. Work of this kind is said to be " striking," 
" effect-ful." In all arts these effects consist chiefly in con 
trasts ; in bringing together the terrible and the tender, the 
beautiful and the hideous, the loud and the soft, darkness 
and light, the most ordinary and the most extraordinary. In 
verbal art, besides effects of contrast, there are also effects 
consisting in the description of things that have never before 
been described. These are usually pornographic details 
evoking sexual desire, or details of suffering and death 
evoking feelings of horror, as, for instance, when describing 
a murder, to give a detailed medical account of the lacerated 
tissues, of the swellings, of the smell, quantity and appear 
ance of the blood. It is the same in painting : besides all 
kinds of other contrasts, one is coming into vogue which 
consists in giving careful finish to one object and being 
careless about all the rest. The chief and usual effects in 
painting are effects of light and the depiction of the horrible. 
In the drama, the most common effects, besides contrasts, are 
tempests, thunder, moonlight, scenes at sea or by the sea 
shore, changes of costume, exposure of the female body, 
madness, murders, and death generally : the dying person 
exhibiting in detail all the phases of agony. In music the 
most usual effects are a crescendo, passing from the softest 
and simplest sounds to the loudest and most complex crash 
of the full orchestra ; a repetition of the same sounds 
arpeggio in all the octaves and on various instruments; 


or that the harmony, tone, and rhythm be not at all those 
naturally flowing from the course of the musical thought, but 
such as strike one by their unexpectedness. Besides these, the 
commonest effects in music are produced in a purely physical 
manner by strength of sound, especially in an orchestra. 

Such are some of the most usual effects in the various 
arts, but there yet remains one common to them all, namely, 
to convey by means of one art what it would be natural to 
convey by another : for instance, to make music describe (as is 
done by the programme music of Wagner and his followers), 
or to make painting, the drama, or poetry, induce a frame of 
mind (as is aimed at by all the Decadent art). 

The fourth method is that of interesting (that is, absorbing 
the mind) in connection with works of art. The interest 
may lie in an intricate plot a method till quite recently 
much employed in English novels and French plays, but 
now going out of fashion and being replaced by authenticity, 
i.e. by detailed description of some historical period or some 
branch of contemporary life. For example, in a novel, 
interesting-ness may consist in a description of Egyptian or 
Eoman life, the life of miners, or that of the clerks in a 
large shop. The reader becomes interested and mistakes 
this interest for an artistic impression. The interest may 
also depend on the very method of expression; a kind of 
interest that has now come much into use. Both verse and 
prose, as well as pictures, plays, and music, are constructed 
. so that they must be guessed like riddles, and this process 
of guessing again affords pleasure and gives a semblance of 
the feeling received from art. 

It is very often said that a work of art is very good 

f because it is poetic, or realistic, or striking, or interesting; 

) whereas not only can neither the first, nor the second, nor 
^ the third, nor the fourth of these attributes supply a 

) standard of excellence in art, but they have not even 

1 anything in common with art. 


Poetic means borrowed. All borrowing merely recalls to 
the reader, spectator, or listener some dim recollection of 
artistic impressions they have received from previous 
works of art, and does not infect them with feeling which 
the artist has himself experienced. A work founded on 
something borrowed, like Goethe s Faust for instance, may 
be very Avell executed and be full of mind and every beauty,, 
but because it lacks the chief characteristic of a work of art 
completeness, oneness, the inseparable unity of form and 
contents expressing the feeling the artist has experienced 
it cannot produce a really artistic impression. In availing 
himself of this method, the artist only transmits the feeling 
received by him from a previous work of art ; therefore every 
borrowing, whether it be of whole subjects, or of various 
scenes, situations, or descriptions, is but a reflection of art,. 
a simulation of it, but not art itself. And therefore, to say 
that a certain production is good because it is poetic, i.e. 
resembles a work of art, is like saying of a coin that it is 
good because it resembles real money. 

Equally little can imitation, realism, serve, as many people 
think, as a measure of the quality of art. Imitation cannot 
be such a measure, for the chief characteristic of art is the 
infection of others with the feelings the artist has experienced, 
and infection with a feeling is not only not identical with 
description of the accessories of what is transmitted, but 
is usually hindered by superfluous details. The attention 
of the receiver of the artistic impression is diverted by all 
these well-observed details, and they hinder the transmission 
of feeling even when it exists. 

To value a work of art by the degree of its realism, by the 
accuracy of the details reproduced, is as strange as to judge 
of the nutritive quality of food by its external appearance. 
When we appraise a work according to its realism, we only 
show that we are talking, not of a work of art, but of its- 


Neither does the third method of imitating art by 
the use of what is striking or effectful coincide with 
real art any better than the two former methods, for 
in effectfulness the effects of novelty, of the unexpected, 
of contrasts, of the horrible there is no transmission of 
feeling, but only an action on the nerves. If an artist were 
to paint a bloody wound admirably, the sight of the wound 
would strike me, but it would not be art. One prolonged 
note on a powerful organ will produce a striking impression, 
will often even cause tears, but there is no music in it, 
because no feeling is transmitted. Yet such physiological 
\ effects are constantly mistaken for art by people of our 
; circle, and this not only in music, but also in poetry, 
painting, and the drama. It is said that art has become 
refined. On the contrary, thanks to the pursuit of elfectful- 
ness, it has become very coarse. A new piece is brought 
out and accepted all over Europe, such, for instance, as 
Hannele, in which play the author wishes to transmit to the 
spectators pity for a persecuted girl. To evoke this feeling in 
the audience by means of art, the author should either make 
one of the characters express this pity in such a way as to 
infect everyone, or he should describe the girl s feelings cor 
rectly. But he cannot, or will not, do this, and chooses 
another w r ay, more complicated in stage management but 
easier for the author. He makes the girl die on the stage ; 
and, still further to increase the physiological effect on the 
spectators, he extinguishes the lights in the theatre, leaving 
the audience in the dark, and to the sound of dismal music 
he shows how the girl is pursued and beaten by her drunken 
father. The girl shrinks screams groans and falls. 
Angels appear and carry her away. And the audience, 
experiencing some excitement while this is going on, are 
fully convinced that this is true aesthetic feeling. But 
there is nothing aesthetic in such excitement, for there is no 
infecting of man by man, but only a mingled feeling of 


pity for another, and of self-congratulation that it is not I 
who am suffering : it is like what we feel at the sight of 
an execution, or what the Romans felt in their circuses. 

The substitution of effectfulness for JBsthetic feeling is 
particularly noticeable in musical art that art which by 
its nature has an immediate physiological action on the 
nerves. Instead of transmitting by means of a melody the 
feelings he has experienced, a composer of the new school 
accumulates and complicates sounds, and by now strengthen 
ing, now weakening them, he produces on the audience a 
physiological effect of a kind that can be measured by an 
apparatus invented for the purpose. 1 And the public mistake 
this physiological effect for the effect of art. 

As to the fourth method that of interesting it also is 
frequently confounded with art. One often hears it said, 
not only of a poem, a novel, or a picture, but even of a 
musical work, that it is interesting. AVhat does this mean 1 
To speak of an interesting work of art means either that we 
receive from a work of art information new to us, or that 
the work is not fully intelligible, and that little by little, 
and with effort, we arrive at its meaning, and experience a 
certain pleasure in this process of guessing it. In neither 
case has the interest anything in common with artistic im 
pression. Art aims at infecting people with feeling experi 
enced by tKe~artist. "But the mental effort necessary to 
enable the spectator, listener, or reader to assimilate the new 
information contained in the work, or to guess the puzzles 
propounded, by distracting him, hinders the infection. 
And therefore the interestingness of a work not only has 
nothing to do with its excellence as a work of art, but 
rather hinders than assists artistic impression. 

We may, in a work of art, meet with what is poetic, and 

1 An apparatus exists by means of which a very sensitive arrow, 
in dependence on the tension of a muscle of the arm, will indicate 
the physiological action of music on the nerves and muscles. 


realistic, and striking, and interesting, but these things cannot 
replace the essential of art feeling experienced by the artist. 
Latterly, in upper-class art, most of the objects given out as 
being works of art are of the kind which only resemble art, 
and are devoid of its essential quality feeling experienced 
by the artist. And, for the diversion of the rich, such objects 
are continually being produced in enormous quantities by 
the artisans of art. 

Many conditions must be fulfilled to enable a man to 
produce a real work of art. It is necessary that he should 
stand on the level of the highest life-conception of his 
time, that he should experience feeling and have the desire 
and capacity to transmit it, and that he should, moreover, 
have a talent for some one of the forms of art. It is very 
seldom that all these conditions necessary to the production 
of true art are combined. But in order aided by the 
customary methods of borrowing, imitating, introducing 
effects, and interesting unceasingly to produce counterfeits 
of art which pass for art in our society and are well paid 
for, it is only necessary to have a talent for some branch of 
art ; and this is very often to be met with. By talent I 
mean ability : in literary art, the ability to express one s 
thoughts and impressions easily and to notice and remember 
characteristic details ; in the depictive arts, to distinguish 
and remember lines, forms, and colours ; in music, to 
distinguish the intervals, and to remember and transmit 
the sequence of sounds. And a man, in our times, if only 
he possesses such a talent and selects some specialty, may, 
after learning the methods of counterfeiting used in his 
branch of art, if he has patience and if his aesthetic feeling 
(which would render such productions revolting to him) be 
atrophied, unceasingly, till the end of his life, turn out 
works which will pass for art in our society. 

To produce such counterfeits, definite rules or recipes 
exist in each branch of art. So that the talented man, 


having assimilated them, may produce such works a froid, 
cold drawn, without any feeling. 

In order to write poems a man of literary talent needs 
only these qualifications : to acquire the knack, conformably 
with the requirements of rhyme and rhythm, of using, in 
stead of the one really suitable word, ten others meaning 
approximately the same; to learn how to take any phrase 
which, to be clear, has but one natural order of .words, and 
despite all possible dislocations still to retain some sense 
in it; and lastly, to be able, guided by the words required 
for the rhymes, to devise some semblance of thoughts, 
feelings, or descriptions to suit these words. Having 
acquired these qualifications, he may unceasingly produce 
poems short or long, religious, amatory or patriotic, accord 
ing to the demand. 

If a man of literary talent wishes to write a story or 
novel, he need only form his style i.e. learn how to 
describe all that he sees and accustom himself to re 
member or note down details. When he has accustomed 
himself to this, he can, according to his inclination or the 
demand, unceasingly produce novels or stories historical, 
naturalistic, social, erotic, psychological, or even religious, 
for which latter kind a demand and fashion begins to show 
itself. He can take subjects from books or from the events 
of life, and can copy the characters of the people in his book 
from his acquaintances. 

And such novels and stories, if only they are decked out 
with well observed and carefully rioted details, preferably 
erotic ones, will be considered works of art, even though 
they may not contain a spark of feeling experienced. 

To produce art in dramatic form, a talented man, in 
addition to all that is required for novels and stories, must 
also learn to furnish his characters with as many smart 
and witty sentences as possible, must know how to utilise 
theatrical effects, and how to entwine the action of his 


characters so that there should not be any long conversa 
tions, but as much bustle and movement on the stage as 
possible. If the writer is able to do this, he may produce 
dramatic works one after another without stopping, selecting 
his subjects from the reports of the law courts, or from 
the latest society topic, such as hypnotism, heredity, etc., 
or from deep antiquity, or even from the realms of fancy. 

In the sphere of painting and sculpture it is still easier 
for the talented man to produce imitations of art. He 
need only learn to draw, paint, and model especially naked 
bodies. Thus equipped he can continue to paint pictures, 
or model statues, one after another, choosing subjects 
according to his bent mythological, or religious, or fan 
tastic, or symbolical ; or he may depict what is written about 
in the papers a coronation, a strike, the Turko-Grecian 
war, famine scenes ; or, commonest of all, he may just copy 
anything he thinks beautiful from naked women to copper 

For the production of musical art the talented man needs 
still less of what constitutes the essence of art, i.e. feeling 
wherewith to infect others; but, on the other hand, he 
requires more physical, gymnastic labour than for any other 
art, unless it be dancing. To produce works of musical art, 
he must first learn to move his fingers on some instrument 
as rapidly as those who have reached the highest perfection; 
next he must know how in former times polyphonic music 
was written, must study what are called counterpoint and 
fugue ; and furthermore, he must learn orchestration, i.e. how 
to utilise the effects of the instruments. But once he has 
learned all this, the composer may unceasingly produce one 
work after another; whether programme - music, opera, or 
song (devising sounds more or less corresponding to the 
words), or chamber music, i.e. he may take another man s 
themes and work them up into definite forms by means of 
counterpoint and fugue ; or, what is commonest of all, he 


may compose fantastic music, i.e. he may take a conjunction 
of sounds which happens to come to hand, and pile every 
sort of complication and ornamentation on to this chance 

Thus, in all realms of art, counterfeits of art are manu 
factured to a ready-made, prearranged recipe, and these 
counterfeits the public of our upper classes accept for real 

And this substitution of counterfeits for real works of 
art was the third and most important consequence of the 
separation of the art of the upper classes from universal art. 


IN our society three conditions co-operate to cause the pro 
duction of objects of counterfeit art. They are (1) the 
considerable remuneration of artists for their productions 
and the professionalisation of artists which this has pro 
duced, (2) art criticism, and (3) schools of art. 

While art was as yet undivided, and only religious art 
was valued and rewarded while indiscriminate art was 
left unrewarded, there were no counterfeits of art, 
or, if any existed, being exposed to the criticism of the 
whole people, they quickly disappeared. But as soon as 
that division occurred, and the upper classes acclaimed 
every kind of art as good if only it afforded them pleasure, 
and began to reward such art more highly than any other 
social activity, immediately a large number of people devoted 
themselves to this activity, and art assumed quite a different 
character and became a profession. 

And as soon as this occurred, the chief and most precious 
quality of art its sincerity was at once greatly weakened 
and eventually quite destroyed. 

The professional artist lives by his art, and has continually 
to invent subjects for his works, and does invent them. 
And it is obvious how great a difference must exist between 
works of art produced on the one hand by men such as 
the Jewish prophets, the authors of the Psalms, Francis of 
Assisi, the authors of the Iliad and Odyssey, of folk-stories, 
legends, and folk-songs, many of whom not only received 
no remuneration for their work, but did not even attach 



their names to it; and, on the other hand, works produced 
by court poets, dramatists and musicians receiving honours 
and remuneration ; and later on by professional artists, who 
lived by the trade, receiving remuneration from newspaper 
editors, publishers, impresarios, and in general from those 
agents who come between the artists and the town public 
the consumers of art. 

Professionalism is the first condition of the diffusion of 
false, counterfeit art. 

The second condition is the growth, in recent times, of 
artistic criticism, i.e. the valuation of art not by everybody, 
and, above all, not by plain men, but by erudite, that is, by 
perverted and at the same time self-confident individuals. 

A friend of mine, speaking of the relation of critics to 
artists, half-jokingly defined it thus : " Critics are the stupid 
who discuss the wise." However partial, inexact, and rude 
this definition may be, it is yet partly true, and is incom 
parably juster than the definition which considers critics to 
be men who can explain works of art. 

" Critics explain ! " What do they explain ? 

The artist, if a real artist, has by his work transmitted 
to others the feeling he experienced. What is there, then, 
to explain ? 

If a work be good as art, then the feeling expressed by 
the artist be it moral or immoral transmits itself to 
other people. If transmitted to others, then they feel it, 
and all interpretations are superfluous. If the work -does 
not infect people, no explanation can make it contagious. 
An artist s work cannot be interpreted. Had it been pos 
sible to explain in words what he wished to convey, the 
artist would have expressed himself in words. He expressed 
it by his art, only because the feeling he experienced could 
not be otherwise transmitted. The interpretation of works 
of art by words only indicates that the interpreter is him 
self incapable of feeling the infection of art. And this is 


actually the case, for, however strange it may seem to say 
so, critics have always been people less susceptible than 
other men to the contagion of art. For the most part they 
are able writers, educated and clever, but with their capacity 
of being infected by art quite perverted or atrophied. And 
therefore their writings have always largely contributed, and 
still contribute, to the perversion of the taste of that public 
which reads them and trusts them. 

Artistic criticism did not exist could not and cannot 
exist in societies where art is undivided, and where, con 
sequently, it is appraised by the religious understanding-of- 
life common to the whole people. Art criticism grew, 
and could grow, only on the art of the upper classes, who 
did not acknowledge the religious perception of their time. 

Universal art has a definite and indubitable internal 
criterion religious perception ; upper-class art lacks this, and 
therefore the appreciators of that art are obliged to cling to 
some external criterion. And they find it in " the judgments 
of the finest-nurtured," as an English sesthetician has 
phrased it, that is, in the authority of the people who are 
considered educated, nor in this alone, but also in a tradition 
of such authorities. This tradition is extremely misleading, 
both because the opinions of " the finest-nurtured " are often 
mistaken, and also because judgments which were valid 
once cease to be so with the lapse of time. But the critics, 
having no basis for their judgments, never cease to repeat 
their traditions. The classical tragedians were once con 
sidered good, and therefore criticism considers them to be so 
still. Dante was esteemed a great poet, Raphael a great 
painter, Each a great musician and the critics, lacking a 
standard by which to separate good art from bad, not only 
consider these artists great, but regard all their productions 
as admirable and worthy of imitation. Nothing has contri 
buted, and still contributes, so much to the perversion of art 
as these authorities set up by criticism. A man produces a 


work of art, like every true artist expressing in his own 
peculiar manner a feeling he has experienced. Most people 
are infected by the artist s feeling ; and his work becomes 
known. Then criticism, discussing the artist, says that the 
work is not bad, but all the same the artist is not a Dante, 
nor a Shakespear, nor a Goethe, nor a Raphael, nor what 
Beethoven was in his last period. And the young artist 
sets to work to copy those who are held up for his imitation, 
and he produces not only feeble works, but false works, 
counterfeits of art. 

Thus, for instance, our Pushkin writes his short poems, 
Evyeniy Oner/in, TJie Gipsies, and his stories works all 
varying in quality, but all true art. But then, under the 
influence of false criticism extolling Shakespear, he writes 
Boris Godunoff, a cold, brain-spun work, and this production 
is lauded by the critics, set up as a model, and imitations of 
it appear : Minin by Ostrovsky, and Tsar Boris by Alexee 
Tolstoy, and such imitations of imitations as crowd all litera 
tures with insignificant productions. The chief harm done 
by the critics is this, that themselves lacking the capacity to 
be infected by art (and that is the characteristic of all 
critics ; for did they not lack this they could not attempt 
the impossible the interpretation of works of art), they 
pay most attention to, and eulogise, brain-spun, invented 
works, and set these up as models worthy of imitation. 
That is the reason they so confidently extol, in literature, 
the Greek tragedians, Dante, Tasso, Milton, Shakespear, 
Goethe (almost all he wrote), and, among recent writers, 
Zola and Ibsen ; in music, Beethoven s last period, and 
Wagner. To justify their praise of these brain-spun, 
invented works, they devise entire theories (of which the 
famous theory of beauty is one) ; and not only dull but 
also talented people compose works in strict deference to 
these theories ; and often even real artists, doing violence to 
their genius, submit to them. 


Every false work extolled by the critics serves as a 
door through which the hypocrites of art at once 
crowd in. 

It is solely due to the critics, who in our times still praise 
rude, savage, and, for us, often meaningless works of the 
ancient Greeks : Sophocles, Euripides, ^Eschylus, and espe 
cially Aristophanes; or, of modern writers, Dante, Tasso, 
Milton, Shakespear; in painting, all of Raphael, all of 
Michael Angelo, including his absurd "Last Judgment"; in 
music, the whole of Bach, and the whole of Beethoven, 
including his last period, thanks only to them, have the 
Ibsens, Maeterlincks, Verlaines, Mallarmes, Puvis de Cha- 
vannes, Klingers, Bocklins, Stucks, Schneiders ; in music, 
the Wagners, Liszts, Berliozes, Brahmses, and Richard 
Strausses, etc., and all that immense mass of good-for- 
nothing imitators of these imitators, become possible in 
our day. 

As a good illustration of the harmful influence of criticism, 
take its relation to Beethoven. Among his innumerable 
hasty productions written to order, there are, notwithstand 
ing their artificiality of form, works of true art. But he 
grows deaf, cannot hear, and begins to write invented, 
unfinished works, which are consequently often meaningless 
and musically unintelligible. I know that musicians can 
imagine sounds vividly enough, and can almost hear what 
they read, but imaginary sounds can never replace real ones, 
and every composer must hear his production in order to 
perfect it. Beethoven, however, could not hear, could not 
perfect his work, and consequently published productions 
which are. artistic ravings. But criticism, having once 
acknowledged him to be a great composer, seizes on just 
these abnormal works with special gusto, and searches for 
extraordinary beauties in them. And, to justify its lauda 
tions (perverting the very meaning of musical art), it 
attributed to music the property of describing what it cannot 


describe. And imitators appear an innumerable host of 
imitators of these abnormal attempts at artistic productions 
which Beethoven wrote when he was deaf. 

Then Wagner appears, who at first in critical articles 
praises just Beethoven s last period, and connects this music 
with Schopenhauer s mystical theory that music is the ex 
pression of Will not of separate manifestations of will 
objectivised on various planes, but of its very essence 
which is in itself as absurd as this music of Beethoven. 
And afterwards he composes music of his own on this 
theory, in conjunction with another still more erroneous 
system of the union of all the arts. After Wagner yet 
new imitators appear, diverging yet further from art : 
Brahms, Richard Strauss, and others. 

Such are the results of criticism. But the third condition 
of the perversion of art, namely, art schools, is almost more 
harmful still. 

. As soon as art became, not art for the whole people but 
for a rich class, it became a profession ; as soon as it became 
a profession, methods were devised to teach it ; people 
who chose this profession of art began to learn these 
methods, and thus professional schools sprang up : classes 
of rhetoric or literature in the public schools, academics 
for painting, conservatoires for music, schools for dramatic 

In these schools art is taught ! But art is the transmission 
to others of a special feeling experienced by the artist. 
How can this be taught in schools 1 

No school can evoke feeling in a man, and still less can 
it teach him IIOAV to manifest it in the one particular manner 
natural to him alone. But the essence of art lies in these 

The one thing these schools can teach is how to transmit 
feelings experienced by other artists in the way those other 
artists transmitted them. And this is just what the 


professional schools do teach ; and such instruction not only 
does not assist the spread of true art, but, on the contrary, 
by diffusing counterfeits of art, does more than anything 
else to deprive people of the capacity to understand 
true art. 

In literary art people are taught how, without having 
anything they wish to say, to write a many-paged com 
position on a theme about which .they have never thought, 
and, moreover, to write it so that it should resemble the 
work of an author admitted to be celebrated. This is taught 
in schools. 

In painting the chief training consists in learning to draw 
and paint from copies and models, the naked body chiefly 
(the very thing that is never seen, and which a man 
occupied with real art hardly ever has to depict), and to 
draw and paint as former masters drew and painted. The 
composition of pictures is taught by giving out themes similar 
to those which have been treated by former acknowledged 

So also in dramatic schools, the pupils are taught to 
recite monologues just as tragedians, considered celebrated, 
declaimed them. 

It is the same in music. The whole theory of music is 
nothing but a disconnected repetition of those methods 
which the acknowledged: masters of composition made 
use of. 

I have elsewhere quoted the profound remark of the 
Russian artist Bruloff on art, but I cannot here refrain from 
repeating it, because nothing better illustrates what can 
and what can not be taught in the schools. Once when 
correcting a pupil s study, Bruloff just touched it in a few 
places, and the poor dead study immediately became ani 
mated. " Why, you only touched it a wee bit, and it is quite 
another thing ! " said one of the pupils. " Art begins where 
the wee bit begins," replied Bruloff, indicating by these 

WHAT IS ART? . 2 3J2< 

words just what is most characteristic of art. The remark 
is true of all the arts, but its justice is particularly noticeable 
in the performance of music. That musical execution should 
be artistic, should be art, i.e. should infect, three chief con 
ditions must be observed, there are many others needed for 
musical perfection ; the transition from one sound to another 
must be interrupted or continuous ; the sound must increase 
or dimmish steadily ; it must be blended with one and not 
with another sound ; the sound must have this or that 
timbre, and much besides, but take the three chief con 
ditions : the pitch, the time, and the strength of the sound. 
Musical execution is only then art, only then infects, when 
the sound is neither higher nor lower than it should be, 
that is, when exactly the infinitely small centre of the 
required note is taken ; when that note is continued exactly 
as long as is needed ; and when the strength of the sound 
is neither more nor less than is required. The slightest 
deviation of pitch in either direction, the slightest increase 
or decrease in time, or the slightest strengthening or 
weakening of the sound beyond what is needed, destroys 
the perfection and, consequently, the infectiousness of 
the work. So that the feeling of infection by the art of 
music, which seems so simple and so easily obtained, is 
a thing we receive only when the performer finds those 
infinitely minute degrees which are necessary to perfection 
in music. It is the same in all arts : a wee bit lighter, 
a wee bit darker, a wee bit higher, lower, to the right or 
the left in painting ; a wee bit weaker or stronger in 
intonation, or a wee bit sooner or later in dramatic art ; 
a wee bit omitted, over-emphasised, or exaggerated in 
poetry, and there is no contagion. Infection is only 
obtained when an artist finds those infinitely minute degrees 
of which a work of art consists, and only to the extent to 
which he finds them. And it is quite impossible to teach 
people by external means to find these minute degrees : they 



can only be found when a man yields to his feeling. No 
instruction can make a dancer catch just the tact of the 
music, or a singer or a fiddler take exactly the infinitely 
minute centre of his note, or a sketcher draw of all possible 
lines the only right one, or a poet find the only meet arrange 
ment of the only suitable words. All this is found only 
by feeling. And therefore schools may teach what is neces 
sary in order to produce something resembling art, but not 
art itself. 

The teaching of the schools stops there where the wee 
bit begins consequently where art begins. 

Accustoming people to something resembling art, dis 
accustoms them to the comprehension of real art. And that 
is how it comes about that none are more dull to art than 
those who have passed through the professional schools and 
been most successful in them. Professional schools produce 
an hypocrisy of art precisely ,akin to that hypocrisy of 
religion which is produced by theological colleges for 
training priests, pastors, and religious teachers generally. 
As it is impossible in a school to train a man so as to 
make a religious teacher of him, so it is impossible to teach 
a man how to become an artist. 

Art schools are thus doubly destructive of art : first, in 
that they destroy the capacity to produce real art in those 
who have the misfortune to enter them and go through a 
7 or 8 years course; secondly, in that they generate 
enormous quantities of that counterfeit art which perverts 
the taste of the masses and overflows our world. In 
order that born artists may know the methods of the 
various arts elaborated by former artists, there should 
exist in all elementary schools such classes for drawing 
and music (singing) that, after passing through them, 
every talented scholar may, by using existing models 
accessible to all, be able to perfect himself in his art 


These three conditions the professionalisation of artists, 
art criticism, and art schools have had this effect : that ; 
most people in our times are quite unable even to under 
stand what art is, and accept as art the grossest counterfeits 
of it, 


To what an extent people of our circle and time have lost the 
capacity to receive real art, and have become accustomed 
to accept as art things that have nothing in common with it, 
is best seen from the works of Richard Wagner, which have 
latterly come to be more and more esteemed, not only by 
the Germans but also by the French and the English, as the 
very highest art, revealing new horizons to us. 

The peculiarity of Wagner s music, as is known, consists 
in this, that he considered that music should serve poetry, 
expressing all the shades of a poetical work. 

The union of the drama with music, devised in the 
fifteenth century in Italy for the revival of what they 
imagined to have been the ancient Greek drama with 
music, is an artificial form which had, and has, success 
only among the upper classes, and that only when gifted 
composers, such as Mozart, Weber, Rossini, and others, 
drawing inspiration from a dramatic subject, yielded freely 
to the inspiration and subordinated the text to the music, 
so that in their operas the important thing to the audience 
was merely the music on a certain text, and not the text 
at all, which latter, even when it was utterly absurd, as, 
f,or instance, in the Magic Flute, still did not prevent the 
music from producing an artistic impression. 

Wagner wishes to correct the opera by letting music 
submit to the demands of poetry and unite with it. But 
each art has its own definite realm, which is not identical 
with the realm of other arts, but merely comes in 



contact with them ; and therefore, if the manifestation of, 
I will not say several, but even of two arts the dramatic 
and the musical be united in one complete production, 
then the demands of the one art will make it impossible 
to fulfil the demands of the other, as has always occurred in 
the ordinary operas, where the dramatic art has submitted to, 
or rather yielded place to, the musical. Wagner wishes that 
musical art should submit to dramatic art, and that both 
should appear in full strength. But this is impossible, for 
every work of art, if it be a true one, is an expression of 
intimate feelings of the artist, which are quite exceptional, and 
not like anything else. Such is a musical production, and such 
is a dramatic work, if they be true art. And therefore, in 
order that a production in the one branch of art should 
coincide with a production in the other branch, it is necessary 
that the impossible should happen : that two works from 
different realms of art should be absolutely exceptional, 
unlike anything that existed before, and yet should coincide, 
and be exactly alike. 

And this cannot be, just as there cannot be two men, or 
even two leaves on a tree, exactly alike. Still less can two 
works from different realms of art, the musical and the 
literary, be absolutely alike. If they coincide, then either 
one is a work of art and the other a counterfeit, or both are 
counterfeits. Two live leaves cannot be exactly alike, but 
two artificial leaves may be. And so it is with works of 
art. They can only coincide completely when neither the - 
one nor the other is art, but only cunningly devised 
semblances of it. 

If poetry and music may be joined, as occurs in hymns, 
songs, and romances (though even in these the music does 
not follow the changes of each verse of the text, as Wagner 
wants to, but the song and the music merely produce a 
coincident effect on the mind) this occurs only because 
lyrical poetry and music have, to some extent, one and the 


same aim : to produce a mental condition, and the condi 
tions produced by lyrical poetry and by music can, more or 
less, coincide. But even in these conjunctions the centre of 
gravity always lies in one of the two productions, so that 
it is one of them that produces the artistic impression while 
the other remains unregarded. And still less is it possible 
for such union to exist between epic or dramatic poetry and 

Moreover, one of the chief conditions of artistic creation 
is the complete freedom of the artist from every kind of 
preconceived demand. And the necessity of adjusting his 
musical work to a work from another realm of art is a pre 
conceived demand of such a kind as to destroy all possibility 
of creative power ; and therefore works of this kind, adjusted 
to one another, are, and must be, as has always happened, 
not works of art but only imitations of art, like the music 
of a melodrama, signatures to pictures, illustrations, and 
librettos to operas. 

And such are Wagner s productions. And a confirma 
tion of this is to be seen in the fact that Wagner s new 
music lacks the chief characteristic of every true work 
of art, namely, such entirety and completeness that the 
smallest alteration in its form would disturb the meaning 
of the whole work. In a true work of art poem, drama, 
picture, song, or symphony it is impossible to extract one line, 
one scene, one figure, or one bar from its place and put it in 
another, without infringing the significance of the whole 
work; just as it is impossible, without infringing the life 

an organic being, to extract an organ from one place and 
insert it in another. But in the music of Wagner s last 
period, with the exception of certain parts of little importance 
which have an independent musical meaning, it is possible 
to make all kinds of transpositions, putting what was in 
front behind, and vice versa, without altering the musical 
sense. And the reason why these transpositions do not 


alter the sense of Wagner s music is because the sense lies 
in the words and not in the music, 

The musical score of Wagner s later operas is like what 
the result would be should one of those versifiers of whom 
there are now many, with tongues so broken that they can 
write verses on any theme to any rhymes in any rhythm, 
which sound as if they had a meaning conceive the idea 
of illustrating by his verses some symphony or sonata of 
Beethoven, or some ballade of Chopin, in the following 
manner. To the first bars, of one character, he writes 
verses corresponding in his opinion to those first bars. 
Next come some bars of a different character, and he also 
writes verses corresponding in his opinion to them, but with 
no internal connection with the first verses, and, moreover, 
without rhymes and without rhythm. Such a production, 
without the music, would be exactly parallel in poetry to 
what Wagner s operas are in music, if heard without the 

But Wagner is not only a musician, he is also a poet, 
or both together ; and therefore, to judge of Wagner, one 
must know his poetry also that same poetry which the 
music has to subserve. The chief poetical production of 
Wagner is The Nibduncjs Ring. This work has attained 
such enormous importance in our time, and has such influ 
ence on all that now professes to be art, that it is neces 
sary for everyone to-day to have some idea of it. I have 
carefully read through the four booklets which contain this 
work, and have drawn up a brief summary of it, which I 
give in Appendix III. I would strongly advise the reader 
(if he has not perused the poem itself, which would be 
the best thing to do) at least to read my account of it, 
so as to have an idea of this extraordinary work. It is a 
model work of counterfeit art, so gross as to be even 

But we are told that it is impossible to judge of Wagner s 


works without seeing them on the stage. The Second Day 
of this drama, which, as I was told, is the best part of the 
whole work, was given in Moscow last winter, and I went 
to see the performance. 

When I arrived the enormous theatre was already filled 
from top to bottom. There were Grand-Dukes, and the 
flower of the aristocracy, of the merchant class, of the 
learned, and of the middle-class official public. Most of 
them held the libretto, fathoming its meaning. Musicians 
some of them elderly, grey-haired men followed the 
music, score in hand. Evidently the performance of this 
work was an event of importance. 

I was rather late, but I was told that the short prelude, 
with which the act begins, was of little importance, and 
that it did not matter having missed it. When I arrived, 
an actor sat on the stage amid decorations intended to 
represent a cave, and before something which was meant to 
represent a smith s forge. He was dressed in trico-tights r 
with a cloak of skins, wore a wig and an artificial beard, and 
with white, weak, genteel hands (his easy movements, and 
especially the shape of his stomach and his lack of muscle 
revealed the actor) beat an impossible sword with an 
unnatural hammer in a way in which no one ever uses 
a hammer ; and at the same time, opening his mouth 
in a strange way, he sang something incomprehensible. 
The music of various instruments accompanied the strange 
sounds which he emitted. From the libretto one was 
able to gather that the actor had to represent a powerful 
gnome, who lived in the cave, and who was forging a sword 
for Siegfried, whom he had reared. One could tell 
he was a gnome by the fact that the actor walked 
all the time bending the knees of his trico-covered 
legs. This gnome, still opening his mouth in the same 
strange way, long continued to sing or shout. The music 
meanwhile runs over something strange, like beginnings 


which are not continued and do not get finished. From 
the libretto one could learn that the gnome is telling 
himself about a ring which a giant had obtained, and 
which the gnome wishes to procure through Siegfried s 
aid, while Siegfried wants a good sword, on the forging 
of which the gnome is occupied. After this conversation 
or singing to himself has gone on rather a long time, 
other sounds are heard in the orchestra, also like something 
beginning and not finishing, and another actor appears, 
with a horn slung over his shoulder, and accompanied by 
a man running on all fours dressed up as a bear, whom 
he sets at the smith-gnome. The latter runs away with 
out unbending the knees of his trico-covered legs. This 
actor with the horn represented the hero, Siegfried. The 
sounds which were emitted in the orchestra on the entrance 
of this actor were intended to represent Siegfried s character 
and are called Siegfried s leit-motiv. And these sounds are 
repeated each time Siegfried appears. There is one fixed 
combination of sounds, or leit-motiv, for each character, 
and this leit-motiv is repeated every time the person whom 
it represents appears ; and when anyone is mentioned the 
motiv is heard which relates to that person. Moreover, 
each article also lias its own leit-motiv or chord. There 
is a motiv of the ring, a motiv of the helmet, a motiv of 
the apple, a motiv of fire, spear, sword, water, etc. ; and as 
soon as the ring, helmet, or apple is mentioned, the motiv 
or chord of the ring, helmet, or apple is heard. The actor 
with the horn opens his mouth as unnaturally as the gnome, 
and long continues in a chanting voice to shout some words, 
and in a similar chant Mime (that is the gnome s name) 
answers something or other to him. The meaning of this 
conversation can only be discovered from the libretto; and it is 
that Siegfried was brought up by the gnome, and therefore, 
for some reason, hates him and always wishes to kill him. 
The gnome has forged a sword for Siegfried, but Siegfried 


is dissatisfied with it. From a ten-page conversation (by the 
libretto), lasting half an hour and conducted with the same 
strange openings of the mouth and chantings, it appears 
that Siegfried s mother gave birth to him in the wood, and 
that concerning his father all that is known is that he had 
a sword which was broken, the pieces of which are in Mime s 
possession, and that Siegfried does not know fear and wishes 
to go out of the wood. Mime, however, does not want to 
let him go. During the conversation the music never omits, 
at the mention of father, sword, etc., to sound the motive of 
these people and things. After these conversations fresh 
sounds are heard those of the god Wotan and a wanderer 
appears. This wanderer is the god Wotan. Also dressed 
up in a wig, and also in tights, this god Wotan, standing 
in a stupid pose with a spear, thinks proper to recount 
what Mime must have known before, but what it is 
necessary to tell the audience. He does not tell it simply, 
but in the form of riddles which he orders himself to guess, 
staking his head (one does not know why) that he will guess 
right. Moreover, whenever the wanderer strikes his spear 
on the ground, fire comes out of the ground, and in the 
orchestra the sounds of spear and of fire are heard. The 
orchestra accompanies the conversation, and the motive of the 
people and things spoken of are always artfully intermingled. 
Besides this the music expresses feelings in the most naive 
manner : the terrible by sounds in the bass, the frivolous by 
rapid touches in the treble, etc. 

The riddles have no meaning except to tell the audience 
what the nibelungs are, what the giants are, what the 
gods are, and what has happened before. This conver 
sation also is chanted with strangely opened mouths and 
continues for eight libretto pages, and correspondingly 
long on the stage. After this the wanderer departs, and 
Siegfried returns and talks with Mime for thirteen pages more. 
There is not a single melody the whole of this time, but 


merely intertwinings of the leit-moUve of the people and 
things mentioned. The conversation tells that Mime wishes 
to teach Siegfried fear, and that Siegfried does not know 
what fear is. Having finished this conversation, Siegfried 
seizes one of the pieces of what is meant to represent the 
broken sword, saws it up, puts it on what is meant to 
represent the forge, melts it, and then forges it and sings : 
Heiho! heiho! heiho! Ho! ho! Aha! oho! aha! Heiaho! 
heiaho ! heiaho ! Ho ! ho ! Hahei ! hoho ! hahei ! and Act 
I. finishes. 

As far as the question I had come to the theatre to 
decide was concerned, my mind was fully made up, as 
surely as on the question of the merits of my lady 
acquaintance s novel when she read me the scene between 
the loose-haired maiden in the white dress and the hero 
with two white dogs and a hat with $ feather a la Guil- 
laume Tell. 

From an author who could compose such spurious scenes, 
outraging all aesthetic feeling, as those which I had wit 
nessed, there was nothing to be hoped; it may safely be 
decided that all that such an author can write will be bad, 
because he evidently does not know what a true work of 
art is. I wished to leave, but the friends I was with 
asked me to remain, declaring that one could not form 
an opinion by that one act, and that the second would be 
better. So I stopped for the second act. 

Act II., night. Afterwards dawn. In general the whole 
piece is crammed with lights, clouds, moonlight, darkness, 
magic fires, thunder, etc. 

The scene represents a wood, and in the wood there is a 
cave. At the entrance of the cave sits a third actor in 
tights, representing another gnome. It dawns. Enter the 
god Wotan, again with a spear, and again in the guise of a 
wanderer. Again his sounds, together with fresh sounds ot 
the deepest bass that can be produced. These latter indicate 


that the dragon is speaking. Wotan awakens the dragon. 
The same bass sounds are repeated, growing yet deeper and 
deeper. First the dragon says, "I want to sleep," but after 
wards he crawls out of the cave. The dragon is represented 
by two men ; it is dressed in a green, scaly skin, waves a tail 
at one end, while at the other it opens a kind of crocodile s 
jaw that is fastened on, and from which flames appear. The 
dragon (who is meant to be dreadful, and may appear so 
to five-year-old children) speaks some words in a terribly 
bass voice. This is all so stupid, so like what is done in a 
booth at a fair, that it is surprising that people over seven 
years of age can witness it seriously ; yet thousands of 
quasi-cultured people sit and attentively hear and see it, and 
are delighted. 

Siegfried, with his horn, reappears, as does Mime also. In 
the orchestra the sounds denoting them are emitted, and 
they talk about whether Siegfried does or does not know 
what fear is. Mime goes away, and a scene commences which 
is intended to be most poetical. Siegfried, in his tights, lies 
down in a would-be beautiful pose, and alternately keeps 
silent and talks to himself. He ponders, listens to the song 
of birds, and wishes to imitate them. For this purpose 
he cuts a reed with his sword and makes a pipe. The dawn 
grows brighter and brighter ; the birds sing. Siegfried tries 
to imitate the birds. In the orchestra is heard the imitation 
of birds, alternating with sounds corresponding to the words 
he speaks. But Siegfried does not succeed with his pipe- 
playing, so he plays on his horn instead. This scene is 
unendurable. Of music, i.e. of art serving as a means to 
transmit a state of mind experienced by the author, there is 
not even a suggestion. There is something that is absolutely 
unintelligible musically. In a musical sense a hope is con 
tinually experienced, followed by disappointment, as if a 
musical thought were commenced only to be broken off. If 
there are something like musical commencements, these 

WHAT IS ART ? 137 

commencements are so short, so encumbered with complica 
tions of harmony and orchestration and with effects of con 
trast, are so obscure and unfinished, and what is happening 
on the stage meanwhile is so abominably false, that it is 
difficult even to perceive these musical snatches, let alone to 
be infected by them. Above all, from the very beginning 
to the very end, and in each note, the author s purpose is so 
audible and visible, that one sees and hears neither Siegfried 
nor the birds, but only a limited, self-opinionated German 
of bad taste and bad style, who has a most false conception of 
poetry, and who, in the rudest and most primitive manner, 
wishes to transmit to me these false and mistaken con 
ceptions of his. 

Everyone knows the feeling of distrust and resistance 
which is always evoked by an author s evident predeter 
mination. A narrator need only say in advance, Prepare 
to cry or to laugh, and you are sure neither to cry nor to 
laugh. But when you see that an author prescribes emotion 
at what is not touching but only laughable or disgusting, 
.and when you see, moreover, that the author is fully assured 
that he has captivated you, a painfully tormenting feeling 
results, similar to what one would feel if an old, deformed 
woman put on a ball-dress and smilingly coquetted before 
you, confident of your approbation. This impression was 
strengthened by the fact that around me I saw a crowd of 
three thousand people, who not only patiently witnessed all 
this absurd nonsense, but even considered it their duty to be 
delighted with it. 

I somehow managed to sit out the next scene also, in 
which the monster appears, to the accompaniment of his 
bass notes intermingled with the motiv of Siegfried; but 
after the fight with the monster, and all the roars, fires, and 
sword-wavings, I could stand no more of it, and escaped from 
the theatre with a feeling of repulsion which, even now, I 
cannot forget. 


Listening to this opera, I involuntarily thought of a 
respected, wise, educated country labourer, one, for 
instance, of those wise and truly religious men whom I 
know among the peasants, and I pictured to myself the 
terrible perplexity such a man would be in were he to 
witness what I was seeing that evening. 

What would he think if he knew of all the labour spent 
on such a performance, and saw that audience, those great 
ones of the earth, old, bald-headed, grey-bearded men, 
whom he had been accustomed to respect, sit silent and 
attentive, listening to and looking at all these stupidities for 
five hours on end 1 Not to speak of an adult labourer, one 
can hardly imagine even a child of over seven occupying 
himself with such a stupid, incoherent fairy tale. 

And yet an enormous audience, the cream of the cultured 
upper classes, sits out five hours of this insane performance, 
and goes away imagining that by paying tribute to this 
nonsense it has acquired a fresh right to esteem itself 
advanced and enlightened. 

I speak of the Moscow public. But what is the Moscow 
public 1 It is but a hundredth part of that public which, 
while considering itself most highly enlightened, esteems it 
a merit to have so lost the capacity of being infected by art, 
that not only can it witness this stupid sham without being 
revolted, but can even take delight in it. 

In Eayreuth, where these performances were first given, 
people who consider themselves finely cultured assembled 
from the ends of the earth, spent, say 100 each, to see 
this performance, and for four days running they went to 
see and hear this nonsensical rubbish, sitting it out for six 
hours each day. 

But why did people go, and why do they still go to these 
performances, and why do they admire them ? The question 
naturally presents itself : How is the success of Wagner s 
works to be explained ? 


That success I explain to myself in this way : thanks 
to his exceptional position in having at his disposal the 
resources of a king, Wagner was able to command all 
the methods for counterfeiting art which have been 
developed by long usage, and, employing these methods 
with great ability, he produced a model work of counter 
feit art. The reason why I have selected his work for my 
Illustration is, that in no other counterfeit of art known to 
me are all the methods by which art is counterfeited 
namely, borrowings, imitation, effects, and interestingness 
so ably and powerfully united. 

From the subject, borrowed from antiquity, to the clouds 
and the risings of the sun and moon, Wagner, in this work, 
has made use of all that is considered poetical. We have 
here the sleeping beauty, and nymphs, and subterranean 
fires, and gnomes, and battles, and swords, and love, and 
incest, and a monster, and singing-birds : the whole arsenal 
of the poetical is brought into action. 

Moreover, everything is imitative : the decorations are 
imitated and the costumes are imitated. All is just as, 
according to the data supplied by archaeology, they would 
have been in antiquity. The very sounds are imitative, for 
Wagner, who was not destitute of musical talent, invented 
just such sounds as imitate the strokes of a hammer, the 
hissing of molten iron, the singing of birds, etc. 

Furthermore, in this work everything is in the highest 
degree striking in its effects and in its peculiarities : its 
monsters, its magic fires, and its scenes under water ; the 
darkness in which the audience sit, the invisibility of the 
orchestra, and the hitherto unemployed combinations of 

And besides, it is all interesting. The interest lies not 
only in the question who will kill whom, and who will 
marry whom, and who is whose son, and what will happen 
next 1 ? the interest lies also in the relation of the music 


to the text. The rolling waves of the Ehine now how 
is that to be expressed in music ? An evil gnome appears 
how is the music to express an evil gnome? and how 
is it to express the sensuality of this gnome? How will 
bravery, fire, or apples be expressed in music? How are 
the leit-motive of the people speaking to be interwoven 
with the leit-motive of the people and objects about whom 
they speak? Besides, the music has a further interest. 
It diverges from all formerly accepted laws, and most 
unexpected and totally new modulations crop up (as is 
not only possible but even easy in music having no inner 
laAv of its being) ; the dissonances are new, and are allowed 
in a new way and this, too, is interesting. 

And it is this poeticality, imitativeness, effectfulness, and 
interestingness which, thanks to the peculiarities of Wagner s 
talent and to the advantageous position in which he was 
placed, are in these productions carried to the highest pitch 
of perfection, that so act on the spectator, hypnotising him 
as one would be hypnotised who should listen for several 
consecutive hours to the ravings of a maniac pronounced 
with great oratorical power. 

People say, "You cannot judge without having seen 
Wagner performed at Bayreuth : in the dark, where the 
orchestra is out of sight concealed under the stage, and 
where the performance is brought to the highest perfec 
tion." And this just proves that we have here no question 
of art, but one of hypnotism. It is just what the spiritu 
alists say. To convince you of the reality of their appari 
tions, they usually say, " You cannot judge ; you must try 
it, be present at several seances," i.e. come and sit silent 
in the dark for hours together in the same room with 
semi-sane people, and repeat this some ten times over, and 
you shall see all that we see. 

Yes, naturally ! Only place yourself in such conditions, 
and you may see what you will. But this can be still more 


quickly attained by getting drunk or smoking opium. It 
is the same when listening to an opera of Wagner s. Sit 
in the dark for four days in company with people who 
are not quite normal, and, through the auditory nerves, 
subject your brain to the strongest action of the sounds 
best . adapted to excite it, and you will no doubt be reduced 
to an abnormal condition and be enchanted by absurdities. 
But to attain this end you do not even need four days ; 
the five hours during which one "day" is enacted, as in 
Moscow, are quite enough. Nor are five hours needed ; 
even one hour is enough for people who have no clear 
conception of what art should be, and who have come to 
the conclusion in advance that what they are going to see 
is excellent, and that indifference or dissatisfaction with 
this work will serve as a proof of their inferiority and 
lack of culture. 

I observed the audience present at this representation. 
The people who led the whole audience and gave the tone to 
it were those who had previously been hypnotised, and who- 
again succumbed to the hypnotic influence to which they 
were accustomed. These hypnotised people, being in an 
abnormal condition, were perfectly enraptured. Moreover, 
all the art critics, who lack the capacity to be infected by 
art and therefore always especially prize works like Wagner s 
opera where it is all an affair of the intellect, also, with 
much profundity, expressed their approval of a work afford 
ing such ample material for ratiocination. And following 
these two groups went that large city crowd (indifferent to> 
art, with their capacity to be infected by it perverted and 
partly atrophied), headed by the princes, millionaires, and 
art patrons, who, like sorry harriers, keep close to those who 
most loudly and decidedly express their opinion. 

" Oh yes, certainly! What poetry! Marvellous ! Especi 
ally the birds ! " " Yes, yes ! I am quite vanquished ! " 
exclaim these people, repeating in various tones what they 


have just heard from men whose opinion appears to them 

If some people do feel insulted by the absurdity and 
spuriousness of the whole thing, they are timidly silent, as 
sober men are timid and silent when surrounded by tipsy 

And thus, thanks to the masterly skill with which it 
counterfeits art while having nothing in common with it, 
a meaningless, coarse, spurious production finds acceptance 
all over the world, costs millions of roubles to produce, and 
assists more and more to pervert the taste of people of the 
upper classes and their conception of what is art. 


I KNOW that most men not only those considered clever, 
but even those who are very clever and capable of 
understanding most difficult scientific, mathematical or 
philosophic problems can very seldom discern even the 
simplest and most obvious truth if it be such as to oblige 
them to admit the falsity of conclusions they have formed, 
perhaps with much difficulty conclusions of which they 
are proud, which they have taught to others, and on which 
they have built their lives. And therefore I have little 
hope that what I adduce as to the perversion of art and 
taste in our society will be accepted or even seriously 
considered. Nevertheless, I must state fully the inevitable 
conclusion to which my investigation into the question of 
art has brought me. This investigation has brought me to 
the conviction that almost all that our society considers to 
be art, good art, and the whole of art, far from being real 
and good art, and the whole of art, is not even art at all, 
but only a counterfeit of it. This position, I know, will 
seem very strange and paradoxical ; but if we once acknow 
ledge art to be a human activity by means of which some 
people transmit their feelings to others (and not a service 
of Beauty, nor a manifestation of the Idea, and so forth), we 
shall inevitably have to admit this further conclusion also. 
If it is true that art is an activity by means of which one 
man having experienced a feeling intentionally transmits it 
to others, then we have inevitably to admit further, that of 
all that among us is termed the art of the upper classes of all 



those novels, stories, dramas, comedies, pictures, sculptures, 
symphonies, operas, operettas, ballets, etc., which profess to 
be works A art scarcely one in a hundred thousand pro- 
deeds frdKm emotion felt by its author, all the rest being 
v b^ mamKctured counterfeits of art in which borrowing, 
imitating, effects, and interestingness replace the con 
tagion of feeling. That the proportion of real productions 
of art is to the counterfeits as one to some hundreds of 
thousands or even more, may be seen by the following 
calculation. I have read somewhere that the artist painters 
in Paris alone number 30,000; there will probably be as 
many in England, as many in Germany, and as many in 
Russia, Italy, and the smaller states combined. So that in 
all there will be in Europe, say, 120,000 painters; and there 
are probably as many musicians and as many literary artists. 
If these 360,000 individuals produce three works a year each 
(and many of them produce ten or more), then each year 
yields over a million so-called works of art. How many, then, 
must have been produced in the last ten years, and how 
many in the whole time since upper-class art broke off from 
the art of the whole people 1 Evidently millions. Yet who 
of all the connoisseurs of art has received impressions from 
all these pseudo works of art 1 Not to mention all the labour 
ing classes who have no conception of these productions, 
even people of the upper classes cannot know one in a 
thousand of them all, and cannot remember those they 
have known. These works all appear under the guise of 
art, produce no impression on anyone (except when they 
serve as pastimes for the idle crowd of rich people), and 
vanish utterly. 

In reply to this it is usually said that without this 
enormous number of unsuccessful attempts we should not 
have the real works of art. But such reasoning is as though 
a baker, in reply to a reproach that his bread was bad, were 
to say that if it were not for the hundreds of spoiled loaves 


there would not be any well-baked ones. It is true that 
where there is gold there is also much sand ; but that can 
not serve as a reason for talking a lot of nonse^fc in order 
to say something wise. AL ^ 

We are surrounded by productions consideiSr artis^Jb. L 
Thousands of verses, thousands of poems, thousands of novels, 
thousands of dramas, thousands of pictures, thousands of x 
musical pieces, follow one after another. All the verses 
describe love, or nature, or the author s state of mind, and 
in all of them rhyme and rhythm are observed. All the 
dramas and comedies are splendidly mounted and are per 
formed by admirably trained actors. All the novels are 
divided into chapters ; all of them describe love, contain 
effective situations, and correctly describe the details of life. 
All the symphonies contain allegro, andante, scherzo, and 
finale ; all consist of modulations and chords, and are played 
by highly-trained musicians. All the pictures, in gold frames, 
saliently depict faces and sundry accessories. But among 
these productions in the various branches of art there is in 
each branch one among hundreds of thousands, not only 
somewhat better than the rest, but differing from them as a 
diamond differs from paste. The one is priceless, the others 
not only have no value but are worse than valueless, for 
they deceive and pervert taste. And yet, externally, they 
are, to a man of perverted or atrophied artistic perception, 
precisely alike. 

In our society the difficulty of recognising real works of 
art is further increased by the fact that the external quality 
of the work in false productions is not only no worse, but 
often better, than in real ones ; the counterfeit is often 
more effective than the real, and its subject more interesting. 
How is one to discriminate 1 How is one to find a production 
in no way distinguished in externals from hundreds of thou 
sands of others intentionally made to imitate it precisely ? 

For a country peasant of unperverted taste this is as 


easy as it is for an animal of unspoilt scent to follow 
the trace he needs among a thousand others in wood or 
forest. The animal unerringly finds what he needs. So 
also the man, if only his natural qualities have not been 
perverted, will, without fail, select from among thousands 
of objects the real work of art he requires that infecting 
him with the feeling experienced by the artist. But it is 
not so with those whose taste has been perverted by their 
education and life. The receptive feeling for art of these 
people is atrophied, and in valuing artistic productions they 
must be guided by discussion and study, which discus 
sion and study completely confuse them. So that most 
people in our society are quite unable to distinguish a work 
of art from the grossest counterfeit. People sit for whole 
hours in concert-rooms and theatres listening to the new 
composers, consider it a duty to read the novels of the 
famous modern novelists and to look at pictures represent 
ing either something incomprehensible or just the very 
things they see much better in real life; and, above all, 
they consider it incumbent on them to be enraptured by 
all this, imagining it all to be art, while at the same time 
they will pass real works of art by, not only without 
attention, but even with contempt, merely because, in their 
circle, these works are not included in the list of works 
of art. 

A few days ago I was returning home from a walk feeling 
depressed, as occurs sometimes. On nearing the house I 
heard the loud singing of a large choir of peasant women. 
They were welcoming my daughter, celebrating her return 
home after her marriage. In this singing, with its cries 
and clanging of scythes, such a definite feeling of joy, 
cheerfulness, and energy was expressed, that, without 
noticing how it infected me, I continued my way towards 
the house in a better mood, and reached home smiling and 
quite in good spirits. That same evening, a visitor, an 


admirable musician, famed for his execution of classical 
music, and particularly of Beethoven, played us Beethoven s 
sonata, Opus 101. For the benefit of those who might 
otherwise attribute my judgment of that sonata of Beethoven 
to non-comprehension of it, I should mention that whatever 
other people understand of that sonata and of other 
productions of Beethoven s later period, I, being very 
susceptible to music, equally understood. For a long time 
I used to atune myself so as to delight in those shapeless 
improvisations which form the subject-matter of the works 
of Beethoven s later period, but I had only to consider the 
question of art seriously, and to compare the impression 
I received from Beethoven s later Avorks with those pleasant, 
clear, and strong musical impressions which are transmitted, 
for instance, by the melodies of Bach (his arias), Haydn, 
Mozart, Chopin (when his melodies are not overloaded 
with complications and ornamention), and of Beethoven 
himself in his earlier period, and above all, with the 
impressions produced by folk-songs, Italian, Norwegian, 
or Russian, by the Hungarian tzar das, and other such 
simple, clear, and powerful music, and the obscure, almost 
unhealthy excitement from Beethoven s later pieces that I 
had artificially evoked in myself was immediately destroyed. 
On the completion of the performance (though it was 
noticeable that everyone had become dull) those present, in 
the accepted manner, warmly praised Beethoven s profound 
production, and did not forget to add that formerly they 
had not been able to understand that last period of his, 
but that they now saw that he was really then at his very 
best. And when I ventured to compare the impression 
made on me by the singing of the peasant women an 
impression which had been shared by all who heard it with 
the effect of this sonata, the admirers of Beethoven only 
smiled contemptuously, not considering it necessary to reply 
to such strange remarks. 


But, for all that, the song of the peasant women was real 
art, transmitting a definite and strong feeling; while the 
101st sonata of Beethoven was only an unsuccessful attempt 
at art, containing no definite feeling and therefore not 

For my work on art I have this winter read diligently, 
though with great effort, the celebrated novels and stories, 
praised by all Europe, written by Zola, Bourget, Huysmans, 
and Kipling. At the same time I chanced on a story in a 
child s magazine, and by a quite unknown writer, which told 
of the Easter preparations in a poor widow s family. Th* 
story tells how the mother managed with difficulty to obtain 
some wheat-flour, which she poured on the table ready to 
knead. She then went out to procure some yeast, telling 
the children not to leave the hut, and to take care of the 
flour. When the mother had gone, some other children 
ran shouting near the window, calling those in the hut to 
come to play. The children forgot their mother s warning, 
ran into the street, and were soon engrossed in the game. 
The mother, on her return with the yeast, finds a hen 
on the table throwing the last of the flour to her chickens, 
who were busily picking it out of the dust of the earthen 
floor. The mother, in despair, scolds the children, who cry 
bitterly. And the mother begins to feel pity for them but 
the white flour has all gone. So to mend matters she 
decides to make the Easter cake with sifted rye-flour, 
brushing it over with white of egg and surrounding it 
with eggs. "Rye-bread which we bake is akin to any 
cake," says the mother, using a rhyming proverb to console 
the children for not having an Easter cake made with white 
flour. And the children, quickly passing from despair to 
rapture, repeat the proverb and await the Easter cake more 
merrily even than before. 

Well ! the reading of the novels and stories by Zola, 
Bourget, Huysmans, Kipling, and others, handling the most 


harrowing subjects, did not touch me for one moment, and 
I was provoked with the authors all the while, as one is 
provoked with a man who considers you so naive that he 
does not even conceal the trick by which he intends to take 
you in. From the first lines you see the intention with 
which the book is written, and the details all become super 
fluous, and one feels dull. Above all, one knows that the 
author had no other feeling all the time than a desire to 
write a story or a novel, and so one receives 110 artistic im 
pression. On the other hand, I could not tear myself away 
from the unknown author s tale of the children and the 
chickens, because I was at once infected by the feeling which 
the author had evidently experienced, re-evoked in himself, 
and transmitted. 

Vasnetsoff is one of our Russian painters. He has painted 
ecclesiastical pictures in Kieff Cathedral, and everyone 
praises him as the founder of some new, elevated kind of 
Christian art. He worked at those pictures for ten years, 
was paid tens of thousands of roubles for them, and they are 
all simply bad imitations of imitations of imitations, destitute 
of any spark of feeling. And this same Vasnetsoff drew a 
picture for Tourgenieff s story " The Quail " (in which it is 
told how, in his son s presence, a father killed a quail and 
felt pity for it), showing the boy asleep with pouting upper 
lip, and above him, as a dream, the quail. And this picture 
is a true work of art. 

In the English Academy of 1897 two pictures were 
exhibited together; one of which, by J. C. Dolman, was the 
temptation of St. Anthony. The Saint is on his knees praying. 
Behind him stands a naked woman and animals of some 
kind. It is apparent that the naked woman pleased the 
artist very much, but that Anthony did not concern him at 
all ; and that, so far from the temptation being terrible to 
him (the artist) it is highly agreeable. And therefore if 
there be any art in this picture, it is very nacty and false. 


Next in the same book of academy pictures comes a picture 
by Langley, showing a stray beggar boy, who has evidently 
been called in by a woman who has taken pity on him. 
The boy, pitifully drawing his bare feet under the bench, 
is eating ; the woman is looking on, probably considering 
whether he will not want some more ; and a girl of about 
seven, leaning on her arm, is carefully and seriously looking 
on, not taking her eyes from the hungry boy, and evidently 
understanding for the first time what poverty is, and what 
inequality among people is, and asking herself why she has 
everything provided for her while this boy goes bare-foot 
and hungry? She feels sorry and yet pleased. And she 
loves both the boy and goodness. . . . And one feels that 
the artist loved this girl, and that she too loves. And this 
picture, by an artist who, I think, is not very widely known, 
is an admirable and true work of art. 

I remember seeing a performance of Hamlet by Rossi. 
Both the tragedy itself and the performer who took the 
chief part are considered by our critics to represent the 
climax of supreme dramatic art. And yet, both from the 
subject-matter of the drama and from the performance, I 
experienced all the time that peculiar suffering which is 
caused by false imitations of works of art. And I lately 
read of a theatrical performance among the savage tribe the 
Voguls. A spectator describes the play. A big Vogul and a 
a little one, both dressed in reindeer skins, represent a rein 
deer-doe and its young. A third Yogul, with a bow, repre 
sents a huntsman on snow-shoes, and a fourth imitates with 
his voice a bird that warns the reindeer of their danger. The 
play is that the huntsman follows the track that the doe 
with its young one has travelled. The deer run off the 
scene and again reappear. (Such performances take place 
in a small tent-house.) The huntsman gains more and more 
on the pursued. The little deer is tired, and presses against 
its mother. The doe stops to draw breath. The hunter 


comes up with them and draws his bow. But just then the 
bird sounds its note, warning the deer of their danger. 
They escape. Again there is a chasej and again the hunter 
gains on them, catches them and lets fly his arrow. The 
arrow strikes the young deer. Unable to run, the little one 
presses against its mother. The mother licks its wound. 
The hunter draws another arrow. The audience, as the 
eye-witness describes them, are paralysed with suspense ; 
deep groans and even weeping is heard among them. And, 
from the mere description, I felt that this was a true work 
of art. 

What I am saying will be considered irrational paradox, 
at which one can only be amazed ; but for all that I must 
say what I think, namely, that people of our circle, of whom 
some compose verses, stories, novels, operas, symphonies, 
and sonatas, paint all kinds of pictures and make statues, 
while others hear and look at these things, and again others 
appraise and criticise it all, discuss, condemn, triumph, and 
raise monuments to one another generation after generation, 
that all these people, with very few exceptions, artists, 
and public, and critics, have never (except in childhood and 
earliest youth, before hearing any discussions on art), ex 
perienced that simple feeling familiar to the plainest man 
and even to a child, that sense of infection with another s 
feeling, compelling us to joy in another s gladness, to 
sorrow at another s grief, and to mingle souls with another, 
which is the very essence of art. And therefore these 
people not only cannot distinguish true works of art from 
counterfeits, but continually mistake for real art the worst 
and most artificial, while they do not even perceive works 
of real art, because the counterfeits are always more ornate, 
while true art is modest. 

o J AJuJL 


ART, in our society, has been so perverted that not only has 
bad art come to be considered good, but even the very per 
ception of what art really is has been lost. In ordejr tq be 
able to speak about the art of our society, it is, therefore, 
first of all necessary to distinguish art from counterfeit art. 

There is one indubitable indication distinguishing real 
art from its counterfeit, namely, the infectiousness of art. 
If a man, without exercising effort and without altering his 
istandpoint, on reading, hearing, or seeing another man s 
(work, experiences a mental condition which unites him 
[with that man and with other people who also partake of 
that work of art, then the object evoking that condition is 
a work of art. And however poetical, realistic, effectful, or 
interesting a work may be, it is not a work of art if it does 
not evoke that feeling (quite distinct from all other feelings) 
of joy, and of spiritual union with another (the author) and 
with others (those who are also infected by it). 

It is true that this indication is an internal one, and that 
there are people who have forgotten what the action of real 
art is, who expect something else from art (in our society 
the great majority are in this state), and that therefore such 
people may mistake for this aesthetic feeling the feeling of 
divertisement and a certain excitement which they receive 
from counterfeits of art. But though it is impossible to 
undeceive these people, just as it is impossible to convince 
a man suffering from "Daltonism" that green is not red, 
yet, for all that, this indication remains perfectly definite 



to those whose feeling for art is neither perverted nor 
atrophied, and it clearly distinguishes the feeling produced 
by art from all other feelings. 

The chief peculiarity of this feeling is that the receiver of 
a true artistic impression is so united to the artist that he/ 
feels as if the work were his own and not someone else s ; > 
as if what it expresses were just what he had long been 
wishing to express. A real work of art destroys, in the 
consciousness of the receiver, the separation between him 
self and the artist, nor that alone, but also between himself 
and all whose minds receive this work of art. In this 
freeing of our personality from its separation and isolation, | j 
in this uniting of it with others, lies the chief characteristic \ , 
and the great attractive force of art. 

If a man is infected by the author s condition of soul, if , 
he feels this emotion and this union with others, then the 
object \vhich has effected this is art; but if there be no 
such infection, if there be not this union with the author ^ 
and with others who are moved by the same work then it ; 
is not art. And not only is infection a sure sign of art, 
but the degree of infectiousness is also the sole measure of 
excellence in art. 

The stronger the infection the better is the art, as art, 
speaking now apart from its subject-matter, i.e. not con 
sidering the quality of the feelings it transmits. 

And the degree of the infectiousness of art depends on 
three conditions : 

(1) On the greater or lesser individuality of the feeling 
transmitted ; (2) on the greater or lesser clearness with : 
which the feeling is transmitted; (3) on the sincerity of the 
artist, i.e. on the greater or lesser force with which the artist 
himself feels the emotion he transmits. 

The more individual the feeling transmitted the more 
strongly does it act on the receiver ; the more individual 
the state of soul into which he is transferred the more 


\ pleasure does the receiver obtain, and therefore the more 
\readily and strongly does he join in it. 

The clearness of expression assists infection, because the 
receiver, who mingles in consciousness with the author, is 
the better satisfied the more clearly the feeling is trans 
mitted, which, as it seems to him, he has long known and 
felt, and for which he has only now found expression. 

But most of all is the degree of infectiousness of art 
\ increased by the degree of sincerity in the artist. As soon 
as the spectator, hearer, or reader feels that the artist is 
infected by his own production, and writes, sings, or plays 
for himself and not merely to act on others, this mental con 
dition of the artist infects the receiver ; and, contrariwise, 
as soon as the spectator, reader, or hearer feels that the author 
is not writing, singing, or playing for his own satisfaction, 
does not himself feel what he wishes to express, but is doing 
it for him, the receiver, a resistance immediately springs up, 
and the most individual and the newest feelings and the 
cleverest technique not only fail to produce any infection 
but actually repel. 

I have mentioned three conditions of contagiousness in 
art, but they may all be summed up into one, the last, 
sincerity, i.e. that the artist should be impelled by an inner 
\ need to express his feeling. That condition includes the 
jfirst ; for if the artist is sincere he will express the feeling 
as he experienced it. And as each man is different from 
everyone else, his feeling will be individual for everyone 
else ; and the more individual it is, the more the artist 
has drawn it from the depths of his nature, the more 
sympathetic and sincere will it be. And this same sincerity 
will impel the artist to find a clear expression of the feeling 
which he wishes to transmit. 

Therefore this third condition sincerity is the most 
important of the three. It is always complied with in 
peasant art, and this explains why such art always acts so 


powerfully; but it is a condition almost entirely absent 
from our upper-class art, which is continually produced by 
artists actuated by personal aims of covetousness or vanity. 

Such are the three conditions which divide art from its 
counterfeits, and which also decide the quality of every 
w.ork of art apart from its subject-matter. 

The absence of any one of these conditions excludes a 
work from the category of art and relegates it to that of 
art s counterfeits. If the work does not transmit the 
artist s peculiarity of feeling, and is therefore not individual, 
if it is unintelligibly expressed, or if it has not proceeded 
from the author s inner need for expression it is not a 
work of art. If all these conditions are present, even in 
the smallest degree, then the work, even if a weak one, is 
yet a work of art. 

The presence in various degrees of these three conditions : 
individuality, clearness, and sincerity, decides the merit of 
a work of art, as art, apart from subject-matter. All works 
of art take rank of merit according to the degree in which 
they fulfil the first, the second, and the third of these con 
ditions. In one the individuality of the feeling transmitted 
may predominate ; in another, clearness of expression ; in a 
third, sincerity } while a fourth may have sincerity and 
individuality but be deficient in clearness ; a fifth, individ 
uality and clearness, but less sincerity ; and so forth, in all 
possible degrees and combinations. 

Thus is art divided from not art, and thus is the quality 
of art, as art, decided, independently of its subject-matter, 
i.e. apart from whether the feelings it transmits are good or 

But how are we to define good and bad art with reference 
to its subject-matter ? 

N - Jr-if- UM>.- 



f**f Y" off- 


How in art are we to decide what is good and what is 
bad in subject-matter? 

Art, like speech, is a means of communication, and 
I therefore of progress, i.e. of the movement of humanity 
\ forward towards perfection. Speech renders accessible to 
men of the latest generations all the knowledge discovered 
by the experience and reflection, both of preceding genera 
tions and of the best and foremost men of their own times ; 
art renders accessible to men of the latest generations all 
| the feelings experienced by their predecessors, and those 
I also which are being felt by their best and foremost con- 
l temporaries, And as the evolution of knowledge proceeds 
by truer and more necessary knowledge dislodging and 
replacing what is mistaken and unnecessary, so the evolu 
tion of feeling proceeds through art, feelings less kind and 
/less needful for the well-being of mankind are replaced by 
others kinder and more needful for that end. That is the 
purpose of art. And, speaking now of its subject-matter, 
the more art fulfils that purpose the better the art, and the 
less it fulfils it the worse the art. 

And the appraisement of feelings (i.e. the acknowledgment 
of these or those feelings as being more or less good, more 
or less necessary for the well-being of mankind) is made by 
ifhe religious perception of the age. 

i In every period of history, and in every human society, 
there exists an understanding of the meaning of life which 
represents the highest level to which men of that society 



have attained, an understanding denning the highest good,? 
at which that society aims. And this understanding is the 
religious perception of the given time and society. And 
this religious perception is ahvays clearly expressed by some 
advanced men, and more or less vividly perceived by all the 
members of the society. Such a religious perception and its 
corresponding expression exists always in every society. If 
it appears to us that in our society there is no religious 
perception, this is not because there really is none, but only 
because we do not want to see it. And we often wish not 
to see it because it exposes the fact that our life is incon 
sistent with that religious perception. 

Religious perception in a society is like the direction of 
a flowing river. If the river flows at all, it must have 
a direction. If a society lives, there must be a religious 
perception indicating the direction in which, more or less 
consciously, all its members tend. 

And so there always has been, and there is, a religious 
perception in every society. And it is by the standard of -^ 
this religious perception that the feelings transmitted by art ? 1 
have always been estimated. Only on the basis of this 
religious perception of their age have men always chosen from 
the endlessly varied spheres of art that art which transmitted 
feelings making religious perception operative in actual life. 
And such art has always been highly valued and encouraged; 
while art transmitting feelings already outlived, flowing from 
the antiquated religious perceptions of a former age, has 
always been condemned and despised. All the rest of art, 
transmitting those most diverse feelings by means of which 
people commune together, was not condemned, and was 
tolerated, if only it did not transmit feelings contrary to 
religious perception. Thus, for instance, among the Greeks, 
art transmitting the feeling of beauty, strength, and courage 
(Hesiod, Homer, Phidias) was chosen, approved, and encour 
aged; while art transmitting feelings of rude sensuality, 


despondency, and effeminacy was condemned and despised. 
Among the Jews, art transmitting feelings of devotion and 
submission to the God of the Hebrews and to His will (the 
epic of Genesis, the prophets, the Psalms) was chosen and 
encouraged, while art transmitting feelings of idolatry (the 
golden calf) was condemned and despised. All the rest of 
art stories, songs, dances, ornamentation of houses, of 
utensils, and of clothes which was not contrary to religious 
perception, was neither distinguished nor discussed. Thus, 
in regard to its subject-matter, has art been appraised always 
and everywhere, and thus it should be appraised, for this 
attitude towards art proceeds from the fundamental charac 
teristics of human nature, and those characteristics do not 

I know that according to an opinion current in our times, 
religion is a superstition, which humanity has outgrown, and 
that it is therefore assumed that no such thing exists as a 
religious perception common to us all by which art, in our 
time, can be estimated. I know that this is the opinion 
current in the pseudo-cultured circles of to-day. People 
who do not acknowledge Christianity in its true meaning 
because it undermines all their social privileges, and who, 
therefore, invent all kinds of philosophic and aesthetic theories 
to hide from themselves the meaninglessness and wrongness 
of their lives, cannot think otherwise. These people inten 
tionally, or sometimes unintentionally, confusing the con 
ception of a religious cult with the conception of religious 
perception, think that by denying the cult they get rid of 
religious perception. But even the very attacks on religion, 
and the attempts to establish a life-conception contrary to 
the religious perception of our times, most clearly demon 
strate the existence of a religious perception condemning 
the lives that are not in harmony with it. 

If humanity progresses, i.e. moves forward, there must 
inevitably be a guide to the direction of that movement. 


And religions have always furnished that guide. All 
history shows that the progress of humanity is accomplished 
not otherwise than under the guidance of religion. But if 
the race cannot progress without the guidance of religion, 
and progress is always going on, and consequently 
also in our own times, then there must be a religion 
of our times. So that, whether it pleases or displeases 
the so-called cultured people of to-day, they must admit 
the existence of religion not of a religious cult, Catholic, 
Protestant, or another, but of religious perception which, 
even in our times, is the guide always present where 
there is any progress. And if a religious perception exists 
amongst us, then our art should be appraised on the 
basis of that religious perception ; and, as has always 
and everywhere been the case, art transmitting feelings 
flowing from the religious perception of our time should 
be chosen from all the indifferent art, should be acknow 
ledged, highly esteemed, and encouraged ; while art running 
counter to that perception should be condemned and 
despised, and all the remaining indifferent art should 
neither be distinguished nor encouraged. 

The religious perception of our time, in its widest and 
most practical application, is the consciousness that our well- 
being, both material and spiritual, individual and collective, 
temporal and eternal, lies in the growth of brotherhood 
among all men in their loving harmony with one another. 
This perception is not only expressed by Christ and all the 
best men of past ages, it is not only repeated in the most 
varied forms and from most diverse sides by the best men 
of our own times, but it already serves as a clue to all the 
complex labour of humanity, consisting as this labour does, 
on the one hand, in the destruction of physical and moral 
obstacles to the union of men, and, on the other hand, in 
establishing the principles common to all men which can, 
and should unite them into one universal brotherhood. 

11 />. .*> -in 



And it is on the basis of this perception that we should 
appraise all the phenomena of our life, and, among the rest, 
our art also ; choosing from all its realms whatever transmits 
feelings flowing from this religious perception, highly prizing 
and encouraging such art, rejecting whatever is contrary to 
this perception, and not attributing to the rest of art an 
importance not properly pertaining to it. 

The chief mistake made by people of the upper classes 

of the time of the so-called Renaissance, a mistake which 

we still perpetuate, was not that they ceased to value and 

to attach importance to religious art (people of that period 

could not attach importance to it, because, like our own 

i upper classes, they could not believe in what the majority 

\ considered to be religion), but their mistake was that they 

set up in place of religious art which was lacking, an 

{insignificant art which aimed only at giving pleasure, i.e. 

they began to choose, to value, and to encourage, in place 

of religious art, something which, in any case, did not deserve 

such esteem and encouragement. 

One of the Fathers of the Church said that the great 
evil is not that men do not know God, but that they have 
set up, instead of God, that which is not God. So also with 
art. The great misfortune of the people of the upper 
classes of our time is not so much that they are without a 
religious art, as that, instead of a supreme religious art, 
I chosen from all the rest as being specially important and 
valuable, they have chosen a most insignificant and, usually, 
harmful art, which aims at pleasing certain people, and 
which, therefore, if only by its exclusive nature, stands in 
contradiction to that Christian principle of universal union 
which forms the religious perception of our time. Instead 
of religious art, an empty and often vicious art is set up, 
and this hides from men s notice the need of that true 
religious art which should be present in life ID order to 
improve it. 

. WHAT IS ART? 161 

It is true that art which satisfies the demands of the 
religious perception of our time is quite unlike former 
art, hut, notwithstanding this dissimilarity, to a man 
who does not intentionally hide the truth from himself, 
it is very clear and definite what does form the religious 
art of our age. In former times, when the highest 
religious perception united only some people (who, even 
if they formed a large society, were yet but one 
society surrounded by others Jews, or Athenian or Roman 
citizens), the feelings transmitted by the art of that time 
flowed from a desire for the might, greatness, glory, and 
prosperity of that society, and the heroes of art might be 
people who contributed to that prosperity by strength, by 
craft, by fraud, or by cruelty (Ulysses, Jacob, David, Samson, 
Hercules, and all the heroes). But the religious perception 
of our times does not select any one society of men ; on 
the contrary, it demands the union of all absolutely of all 
people without exception and above every other virtue it 
sets brotherly love to all men. And, therefore, the feelings 
transmitted by the art of our time not only cannot coincide 
with the feelings transmitted by iormer art, but must run 
counter to them. 

Christian, truly Christian, art has been so long in establish 
ing itself, and has not yet established itself, just because the 
Christian religious perception was not one of those small 
steps by which humanity advances regularly, but was an 
enormous revolution, which, if it has not already altered, 
must inevitably alter the entire life-conception of mankind, 
and, consequently, the whole internal organisation of their 
life. It is true that the life of humanity, like that of an 
individual, moves regularly ; but in that regular movement 
come, as it were, turning-points, which sharply divide the 
preceding from the subsequent life. Christianity was such 
a turning-point; such, at least, it must appear to us who 
live by the Christian perception of life. Christian perception 
1 1 

1 62 WHAT IS ART? 

gave another, a new direction to all human feelings, and 
therefore completely altered both the contents and the 
significance of art. The Greeks could make use of Persian 
art and the Eomans could use Greek art, or, similarly, the 
Jews could use Egyptian art, the fundamental ideals 
were one and the same. Now the ideal was the great 
ness and prosperity of the Persians, now the greatness 
and prosperity of the Greeks, now that of the Eomans. 
The same art was transferred into other conditions, and 
served new nations. But the Christian ideal changed 
and reversed everything, so that, as the Gospel puts it, 
"That which was exalted among men has become an 
i abomination in the sight of God." The ideal is no longer 
\ the greatness of Pharaoh or of a Eomaii emperor, not the 
beauty of a Greek nor the wealth of Phoenicia, but humility, 
I purity, compassion, love. The hero is no longer Dives, but 
Lazarus the beggar ; not Mary Magdalene in the day of her 
beauty, but in the day of her repentance ; not those who 
acquire wealth, but those who have abandoned it ; not those 
who dwell in palaces, but those who dwell in catacombs and 
huts; not those who rule over others, but those who 
acknowledge 110 authority but God s. And the greatest 
work of art is no longer a cathedral of victory l with statues 
of conquerors, but the representation of a human soul 
so transformed by love that a man who is tormented and 
murdered yet pities and loves his persecutors. 

And the change is so great that men of the Christian 

world find it difficult to resist the inertia of the heathen 

art to which they have been accustomed all their lives. The 

- subject-matter of Christian religious art is so new to them, 

{ so unlike the subject-matter of former art, that it seems to 

I them as though Christian art were a denial of art, and they 

1 There is in Moscow a magnificent "Cathedral of our Saviour," 
erected to commemorate the defeat of the French in the war of 1812. 


cling desperately to the old art. But this old art, having 
no longer, in our day, any source in religious perception, 
has lost its meaning, and we shall have to abandon it 
whether we wish to or not. 

The essence of the Christian perception consists in the 
recognition by every man of his sonship to God, and of the 
consequent union of men with God and with one another, 
as is said in the Gospel (John xvii. 21 l ). Therefore the 
subject-matter of Christian art is such feeling as can unite J, 
men with God and with one another. 

The expression unite men idtli God and with one 
another may seem obscure to people accustomed to the 
misuse of these words which is so customary, but the words 
have a perfectly clear meaning nevertheless. They indicate 
that the Christian union of man (in contradiction to the 
partial, exclusive union of only some men) is that which 
unites all without exception. 

Art, all art, has this characteristic, that it unites 
people. Every art causes those to whom the artist s 
feeling is transmitted to unite in soul with the artist, and 
also with all who receive the same impression. But non- 
Christian art, while uniting some people together, makes 
tli at very union a cause of separation between these united 
people and others; so that union of this kind is often a ^ 
source, not only of division, but even of enmity towards 1 
others. Such is all patriotic art, with its anthems, poems, \ 
and monuments; such is all Church art, i.e. the art of 
certain cults, with their images, statues, processions, and 
other local ceremonies. Such art is belated and non- 
Christian art, uniting the people of one cult only to 
separate them yet more sharply from the members of other - 
cults, and even to place them in relations of hostility to 
each other. Christian art is only such as tends to unite all 

1 "That they may be one ; even as thou, Father, art in me, and L 
in thee, that they also may be in us." 

1 64 WHAT IS ART? 

without exception, either by evoking in them the percep 
tion that each man and all men stand in like relation 
towards God and towards their neighbour, or by evoking in 
them identical feelings, which may even be the very simplest 
provided only that they are not repugnant to Christianity 
and are natural to every^ne_jgii^xmt-excgition. 

Good Christian art of our time may be unintelligible to 
people because of imperfections in its form, or because men 
are inattentive to it, but it must be such that all men can 
experience the feelings it transmits. It must be the art, 
not of some one group of people, nor of one class, nor of 
one nationality, nor of one religious cult ; that is, it must 
not transmit feelings which are accessible only to a man 
educated in a certain way, or only to an aristocrat, or a 
merchant, or only to a Kussian, or a native of Japan, 
or a Roman Catholic, or a Buddhist, etc., but it must 
transmit feelings accessible to everyone. Only art of 
this kind can be acknowledged in our time to be good 
art, worthy of being chosen out from all the rest of art 
and encouraged. 

Christian art, i.e. the art of our time, should be catholic 
J.n the original meaning of the word, i.e. universal, and 
^ therefore it should unite all men. And only two kinds 
[ /of feeling do unite all men : first, feelings flowing from the 
[perception of our sonship to God and of the brotherhood 
I of man ; and next, the simple feelings of common life, 
! accessible to everyone without exception such as the 
feeling of merriment, of pity, of cheerfulness, of tran 
quillity, etc. Only these two kinds of feelings can now 
supply material for art good in its subject-matter. 

And the action of these two kinds of art, apparently so 
dissimilar, is one and the same. The feelings flowing from 
perception of our sonship to God and of the brotherhood 
of man such as a feeling of sureness in truth, devotion to 
the will of God, self-sacrifice, respect for and love of man 


evoked by Christian religious perception ; and the simplest 
feelings such as a softened or a merry mood caused by 
a song or an amusing jest intelligible to everyone, or by 
a touching story, or a drawing, or a little doll : both alike 
produce one and the same effect the loving union of man 
with man. Sometimes people who are together are, if not 
hostile to one another, at least estranged in mood and 
feeling, till perchance a story, a performance, a picture, or 
even a building, but oftenest of all music, unites them all 
as by an electric flash, and, in place of their former isolation 
or even enmity, they are all conscious of union and mutual 
love. Each is glad that another feels what he feels ; glad 
of the communion established, not only between him ,and 
all present, but also with all now living who will yet share 
the same impression; and more than that, he feels the 
mysterious gladness of a communion which, reaching beyond 
the grave, unites us with all men of the past who have 
been moved by the same feelings, and with all men of the 
future who will yet be touched by them. And this effect. - 
is produced both by the religious art which transmits . 
feelings of love to God and one s neighbour, and by universal { 
art transmitting the very simplest feelings common to all ( 

The art of our time should be appraised differently from 
former art chiefly in this, that the art of our time, i.e. 
Christian art (basing itself on a religious perception which 
demands the jmion of man), excludes from the domain of 
art good in subject-matter everything transmitting exclusive 
feelings, which do not unite but divide men. It relegates 
such work to the category of art bad in its subject-matter, 
while, on the other hand, it includes in the category of art 
good in subject-matter a section not formerly admitted to 
deserve to be chosen out and respected, namely, universal 
art transmitting even the most trifling and simple feelings 
if only thev are accessible to all men without exception, 

1 66 WHAT IS ART? 

and therefore unite them. Such art cannot, in our time, 
but be esteemed good, for it attains the end which the 
" religious perception of our time, i.e. Christianity, sets before 

Christian art either evokes in men those feelings which, 
through love of God and of one s neighbour, draw them 
to greater and ever greater union, and make them ready 
for and capable of such union ; or evokes in them those 
feelings which show them that they are already united in 
the joys and sorrows of life. And therefore the Christian 
art of our time can be and is of two kinds : (1) art trans 
mitting feelings flowing from a religious perception of 
man s position in the world in relation to God and to his 
neighbour religious art in the limited meaning of the 
term; and (2) art transmitting the simplest feelings of 
common life, but such, always, as are accessible to all men 
in the whole world the art of common life the art of a 

J people universal art. Only these two kinds of art can be 

\ considered good art in our time. 

-~ The first, religious art, transmitting both positive feelings 
of love to God and one s neighbour, and negative feelings of 
indignation and horror at the violation of love, manifests 
itself chiefly in the form of words, and to some extent also 
in painting and sculpture : the second kind (universal art) 
transmitting feelings accessible to all, manifests itself in 
words, in painting, in sculpture, in dances, in architecture, 
and, most of all, in music. 

If I were asked to give modern examples of each of these 
kinds of art, then, as examples of the highest art, flowing 
from love of God and man (both of the higher, positive, and 
of the lower, negative kind), in literature I should name 
The Robbers by Schiller : Victor Hugo s Les Pauvres Gens 
and Les Miserables : the novels and stories of Dickens 
The Tale of Tioo Cities, The Christmas Carol, The Chimes, 
and others : UncU Tom s Cabin : Dostoievsky s works 

WHAT 7.9 ART? 167 

especially his Memoirs from the House of Death : and Adam } 
Bede by George Eliot. 

In modern painting, strange to say, works of this kind, 
directly transmitting the Christian feeling of love of God 
and of one s neighbour, are hardly to be found, especially 
among the works of the celebrated painters. There are 
plenty of pictures treating of the Gospel stories ; they, how 
ever, depict historical events with great wealth of detail, but 
do not, and cannot, transmit religious feeling not possessed 
by their painters. There are many pictures treating of the 
personal feelings of various people, but of pictures repre 
senting great deeds of self-sacrifice and of Christian love 
there are very few, and what there are are principally by 
artists who are not celebrated, and are, for the most part, 
not pictures but merely sketches. Such, for instance, is the 
drawing by Kramskoy (worth many of his finished pictures), 
showing a drawing-room with a balcony, past which troops 
are marching in triumph on their return from the war. On 
the balcony stands a wet-nurse holding a baby and a boj. 
They are admiring the procession of the troops, but the 
mother, covering her face with a handkerchief, has fallen 
back on the sofa, sobbing. Such also is the picture by 
Aalter Langley, to which I have already referred, and such 
again is a picture by the French artist Morion, depicting 
a lifeboat hastening, in a heavy storm, to the relief of a 
steamer that is being wrecked. Approaching these in kind 
are pictures which represent the hard-working peasant 
with respect and love. Such are the pictures by Millet, 
and, particularly, his drawing, "The Man with the Hoe," 
also pictures in this style by Jules Breton, L Hermitte, 
Defregger, and others. As examples of pictures evoking 
indignation and horror at the violation of love to God 
and man, Gay s picture, " Judgment," may serve, and also 
Leizen-Mayer s, "Signing the Death Warrant." But there 
are also very few of this kind. Anxiety about the technique 


and the beauty of the picture for the most part obscures the 
feeling. For instance, Gerome s "Pollice Yerso " expresses, 
not so much horror at what is being perpetrated as attrac 
tion by the beauty of the spectacle. 1 

To give examples, from the modern art of our upper 
classes, of art of the second kind, good universal art or even 
of the art of a whole people, is yet more difficult, especially 
in literary art and music. If there .are some works which 
by their inner contents might be assigned to this class 
(such as Don Quixote, Moliere s comedies, David Copperfield 
and The Pickwick Papers by Dickens, Gogol s and Pushkin s 
tales, and some things of Maupassant s), these works are for 
the most part from the exceptional nature of the feelings 
they transmit, and the superfluity of special details of time 
and locality, and, above all, on account of the poverty of their 
subject-matter in comparison with examples of universal 
ancient art (such, for instance, as the story of Joseph) 
comprehensible only to people of their own circle. That 
Joseph s brethren, being jealous of his father s afiection, sell 
him to the merchants ; that Potiphar s wife wishes to tempt 
the youth ; that having attained the highest station, he takes 
pity on his brothers, including Benjamin the favourite, 
these and all the rest are feelings accessible alike to a 
liussian peasant, a Chinese, an African, a child, or an old 
man, educated or uneducated; and it is all written with 
such restraint, is so free from any superfluous detail, that 
the story may be told to any circle and will be equally 
comprehensible and touching to everyone. But not such are 
the feelings of Don Quixote or of Moliere s heroes (though 
Moliere is perhaps the most universal, and therefore the 
most excellent, artist of modern times), nor of Pickwick 
and his friends. These feelings are not common to all 

1 In this picture the spectators in the Roman Amphitheatre are 
turning down their thumbs to show that they wish the vanquished 
gladiator to be killed. Trans. 


men but very exceptional, and therefore, to make them 
infectious, the authors have surrounded them with abundant 
details of time and place. And this abundance of detail 
makes the stories difficult of comprehension to all people 
not living within reach of the conditions described by the 

The author of the novel of Joseph did not need to 
describe in detail, as would be done nowadays, the blood 
stained coat of Joseph, the dwelling and dress of Jacob, the 
pose and attire of Potiphar s wife, and how, adjusting the 
bracelet on her left arm, she said, " Come to me," and so on, 
because the subject-matter of feelings in this novel is so 
strong that all details, except the most essential, such as 
that Joseph went out into another room to weep, are 
superfluous, and would only hinder the transmission of 
feelings. And therefore this novel is accessible to all men, 
touches people of all nations and classes, young and old, 
and has lasted to our times, and will yet last for thousands 
of years to come. But strip the best novels of our times of 
their details, and what will remain ? 

It is therefore impossible in modern literature to indicate 
works fully satisfying the demands of universality. Such 
works as exist are, to a great extent, spoilt by what is 
usually called "realism," but would be better termed 
"provincialism," in art. 

In music the same occurs as in verbal art, and for similar 
reasons. In consequence of the poorness of the feeling 
they contain, the melodies of the modern composers are 
amazingly empty and insignificant. And to strengthen 
the impression produced by these empty melodies, the new 
musicians pile complex modulations on to each trivial melody, 
not only in their own national manner, but also in the way 
characteristic of their own exclusive circle and particular 
musical school. Melody every melody is free, and may 
be understood of all men ; but as soon as it is bound up 


with a particular harmony, it ceases to be accessible except 
to people trained to such harmony, and it becomes strange, 
not only to common men of another nationality, but to 
all who do not belong to the circle whose members have 
accustomed themselves to certain forms of harmonisation. 
So that music, like poetry, travels in a vicious circle. 
Trivial and exclusive melodies, in order to make them attrac 
tive, are laden with harmonic, rhythmic, and orchestral com 
plications, and thus become yet more exclusive, and far 
from being universal are not even national, i.e. they are not 
comprehensible to the whole people but only to some 

In music, besides marches and dances by various composers, 
which satisfy the demands of universal art, one can indicate 
very few works of this class : Bach s famous violin aria, 
Chopin s nocturne in E flat major, and perhaps a dozen bits 
(not whole pieces, but parts) selected from the works of 
Haydn, Mozart, Schubert, Beethoven, and Chopin. 1 

Although in painting the same thing is repeated as in 
poetry and in music, namely, that in order to make them 
more interesting, works weak in conception are surrounded 
by minutely studied accessories of time and place, which 
give them a temporary and local interest but make them 

1 While offering as examples of art those that seem to me the best, 
I attach no special importance to my selection ; for, besides being 
insufficiently informed in all branches of art, I belong to the class 
of people whose taste has, by false training, been perverted. And 
therefore my old, inured habits may cause me to err, and I may 
mistake for absolute merit the impression a work produced on me in 
my youth. My only purpose in mentioning examples of works of this 
or that class is to make my meaning clearer, and to show how, 
with my present views, I understand excellence in art in relation 
to its subject-matter. I must, moreover, mention that I consign my 
own artistic productions to the category of bad art, excepting the 
story God sees tliz Truth, which seeks a place in the first class, and 
The Prisoner of the Caucasus, which belongs to the second. 


less universal, still, in painting, more than in the other 
spheres of art, may be found works satisfying the demands 
of universal Christian art; that is to say, there are more 
works expressing feelings in which all men may participate. 

In the arts of painting and sculpture, all pictures and 
statues in so-called genre style, depictions of animals, 
landscapes and caricatures with subjects comprehensible 
to everyone, and also all kinds of ornaments, are universal 
in subject-matter. Such productions in painting and 
sculpture are very numerous (e.0. china dolls), but for 
the most part such objects (for instance, ornaments of all 
kinds) are either not considered to be art or are. con 
sidered to be art of a low quality. In reality all such 
objects, if only they transmit a true feeling experienced 
by the artist and comprehensible to everyone (however 
insignificant it may seem to us to be) are works of real, 
good, Christian art. 

I fear it will here be urged against me that having denied 
that the conception of beauty can supply a standard for 
works of art, I contradict myself by acknowledging orna 
ments to be works of good art. The reproach is unjust, for 
the subject-matter of all kinds of ornamentation consists not 
in the beauty, but in the feeling (of admiration of, and 
delight in, the combination of lines and colours) which the 
artist has experienced and with which he infects the 
spectator. Art remains what it was and what it must be : 
nothing but the infection by one man of another, or of 
others, with the feelings experienced by the infectur. 
Among those feelings is the feeling of delight at what 
pleases the sight. Objects pleasing the sight may be such 
as please a small or a large number of people, or such as 
please all men. And ornaments for the most part are of 
the latter kind. A landscape representing a very unusual 
view, or a genre picture of a special subject, may not 
please everyone, but ornaments, from Yakutsk ornaments to 

1 72 WHAT IS ART? 

Greek ones, are intelligible to everyone and evoke a similar 
feeling of admiration in all, and therefore this despised 
kind of art should, in Christian society, be esteemed far 
above exceptional, pretentious pictures and sculptures. 
So that there are only two kinds of good Christian art : 

all the rest of art not comprised in these two divisions 
should be acknowledged to be bad art, deserving not to be 
encouraged but to be driven out, denied and despised, as 

Nbeing art not uniting but dividing people. Such, in literary 
art, are all novels and poems which transmit Church or 
patriotic feelings, and also exclusive feelings pertaining only 
to the class of the idle rich; such as aristocratic honour, 
satiety, spleen, pessimism, and refined and vicious feelings 
flowing from sex-love quite incomprehensible to the great 
majority of mankind. 

In painting we must similarly place in the class of bad 
art all the Church, patriotic, and exclusive pictures; all 
the pictures representing the amusements and allurements 
of a rich and idle life ; all the so-called symbolic pictures, in 
which the very meaning of the symbol is comprehensible 
only to the people of a certain circle ; and, above all, pictures 
with voluptuous subjects all that odious female nudity 
which fills all the exhibitions and galleries. And to this 
class belongs almost all the chamber and opera music of our 
times, beginning especially from Beethoven (Schumann, 
Berlioz, Liszt, Wagner), by its subject-matter devoted to 
the expression of feelings accessible only to people who 
have developed in themselves an unhealthy, nervous irrita 
tion evoked by this exclusive, artificial, and complex 

" What ! the Ninth Symphony not a good work of art ! " 
I hear exclaimed by indignant voices. 

And I reply : Most certainly it is not. All that I have 
written I have written with the sole purpose of finding 
a clear and reasonable criterion by which to judge the 


merits of works of art. And this criterion, coinciding 
with the indications of plain and sane sense, indubitably 
shows me that that symphony by Beethoven is not a 
good work of art. Of course, to people educated in the 
adoration of certain productions and of their authors, to 
people whose taste has been perverted just by being educated 
in such adoration, the acknowledgment that such a cele 
brated work is bad is amazing and strange. But how are 
we to escape the indications of reason and of common sense ? 
Beethoven s Ninth Symphony is considered a great work 
of art. To verify its claim to be such, I must first ask myself 
whether this work transmits the highest religious feeling? 
I reply in the negative, for music in itself cannot transmit 
those feelings ; and therefore I ask myself next, Since this 
work does not belong to the highest kind of religious art, 
has it the other characteristic of the good art of our time, 
the quality of uniting all men in one common feeling : 
does it rank as Christian universal art 1 And again I have 
no option but to reply in the negative ; for not only do I 
not see how the feelings transmitted by this work could 
unite people not specially trained to submit themselves to 
its complex hypnotism, but I am unable to imagine to 
myself a crowd of normal people who could understand 
anything of this long, confused, and artificial production, 
except short snatches which are lost in a sea of what is 
incomprehensible. And therefore, whether I like it or not, I 
am compelled to conclude that this work belongs to the 
rank of bad art. It is curious to note in this connection, 
that attached to the end of this very symphony is a poem 
of Schiller s which (though somewhat obscurely) expresses 
this very thought, namely, that feeling (Schiller speaks 
only of the feeling of gladness) unites people and evokes 
love in them. But though this poem is sung at the end of 
the symphony, the music does not accord with the thought 
expressed in the verses ; for the music is exclusive and does 

174 WHAT IS ART * 

not unite all men, but unites only a few, dividing them of! 
from the rest of mankind. 

And, just in this same way, in all branches of art, many 
and many works considered great by the upper classes of our 
society will have to be judged. By this one sure criterion 
we shall have to judge the celebrated Divine Comedy and 
Jerusalem Delivered, and a great part of Shakespeare s and 
Goethe s works, and in painting every representation of 
miracles, including Raphael s " Transfiguration," etc. 

Whatever the work may be and however it may have 
been extolled, we have first to ask whether this work is one 
of real art or a counterfeit. Having acknowledged, on the 
basis of the indication of its infectiousness even to a small 
class of people, that a certain production belongs to the 
realm of art, it is necessary, on the basis of the indication 
of its accessibility, to decide the next question, Does this 
work belong to the category of bad, exclusive art, opposed 
to religious perception, or to Christian art, uniting people! 
And having acknowledged an article to belong to real 
Christian art, we must then, according to whether it 
transmits the feelings flowing from love to God and man, 
or merely the simple feelings uniting all men, assign it a 
place in the ranks of religious art or in those of universal art. 
Only on the basis of such verification shall we find it 
possible to select from the whole mass of what, in our 
; society, claims to be art, those works which form real, 
\ important, necessary spiritual food, and to separate them 
from all the harmful and useless art, and from the counter 
feits of art which surround us. Only on the basis of such 
verification shall we be able to rid ourselves of the pernicious 
results of harmful art, and to avail ourselves of that bene 
ficent action which is the purpose of true and good art, and 
which is indispensable for the spiritual life of man and of 


ART is one of two organs of human progress. By words man 
interchanges thoughts, by the forms of art he interchanges 
feelings, and this with all men, not only of the present 
time, but also of the past and the future. It is natural to 
human beings to employ both these organs of intercom 
munication, and therefore the perversion of either of them 
must cause evil results to the society in which it occurs. 
And these results will be of two kinds : first, the absence, 
in that society, of the work which should be performed by 
the organ ; and secondly, the harmful activity of the per 
verted organ. And just these results have shown them 
selves in our society. The organ of art has been perverted, 
and therefore the upper classes of society have, to a great 
extent, been deprived of the work that it should have 
performed. The diffusion in our society of enormous 
quantities of, on the one hand, those counterfeits of art 
which only serve to amuse and corrupt people, arid, on 
the other hand, of works of insignificant, exclusive art, 
mistaken for the highest art, have perverted most men s 
capacity to be infected by true works of art, and have 
thus deprived them of the possibility of experiencing the 
highest feelings to which mankind has attained, and which 
can only be transmitted from man to man by art. 

All the best that has been done in art by man remains 
strange to people who lack the capacity to be infected by 
art, and is replaced either by spurious counterfeits of art 
or by insignificant art, which they mistake for real art. 



People of our time and of our society are delighted with 
Baudelaires, Verlaines, More"ases, Ibsens, and Maeterlincks 
in poetry ; with Monets, Manets, Puvis de Chavannes, 
Burne- Joneses, Stucks, and Bocklins in painting; with 
Wagners, Listzs, Kichard Strausses, in music ; and they 
are no longer capable of comprehending either the highest 
or the simplest art. 

In the upper classes, in consequence of this loss of 
capacity to be infected ^by works of art, people grow up, are 
educated, and live, lacking the fertilising, improving influ 
ence of art, and therefore not only do not advance towards 
perfection, do not become kinder, but, on the contrary, 
possessing highly-developed external means of civilisation, 
they yet tend to become continually more savage, more 
coarse, and more cruel. 

Such is the result of the absence from our society of the 
activity of that essential organ art. But the consequences 
of the perverted activity of that organ are yet more harmful. 
And they are numerous. 

The first consequence, plain for all to see, is the enormous 
expenditure of the labour of working people on things which 
are not only useless, but which, for the most part, are harm 
ful ; and more than that, the waste of priceless human lives 
on this unnecessary and harmful business. It is terrible to 
consider with what intensity, and amid what privations, 
millions of people who lack time and opportunity to attend 
to what they and their families urgently require labour 
for 10, 12, or 14 hours on end, and even at night, setting 
the type for pseudo-artistic books which spread vice among 
mankind, or working for theatres, concerts, exhibitions, and 
picture galleries, which, for the most part, also serve vice J 
but it is yet more terrible to reflect that lively, kindly 
children, capable of all that is good, are devoted from their 
early years to such tasks as these: that for 6, 8, or 10 
hours a day, and for 10 or 15 years, some of them should 


play scales and exorcises ; others should twist their limbs, 
walk on their toes, and lift their legs above their heads ; 
a third set should sing solfeggios ; a fourth set, showing 
themselves off in all manner of ways, should pronounce 
verses ; a fifth set should draw from busts or from nude 
models and paint studies ; a sixth set should write compo 
sitions according to the rules of certain periods ; and that 
in these occupations, unworthy of a human being, which are 
often continued long after full maturity, they should waste 
their physical and mental strength and lose all perception 
of the meaning of life. It is often said that it is horrible 
and pitiful to see little acrobats putting their legs over 
their necks, but it is not less pitiful to see children of 10 
giving concerts, and it is still worse to see schoolboys of 
10 who, as a preparation for literary work, have learnt by 
heart the exceptions to the Latin grammar. These people not 
only grow physically and mentally deformed, but also morally 
deformed, and become incapable of doing anything really 
needed by man. Occupying in society the role of amusers of 
the rich, they lose their sense of human dignity, and develop 
in themselves such a passion for public applause that they 
are ahvays a prey to an inflated and unsatisfied vanity 
which grows in them to diseased dimensions, and they ex 
pend their mental strength in efforts to obtain satisfaction 
for this passion. And what is most tragic of all is that 
these people, who for the sake of art are spoilt for life, 
not only do not render service to this art, but, on the 
contrary, inflict the greatest harm on it. They are taught 
in academies, schools, and conservatoires how to counterfeit 
art, and by learning this they so pervert themselves that 
they quite lose the capacity to produce works of real art, 
and become purveyors of that counterfeit, or trivial, or 
depraved art which floods our society. This is the first 
obvious consequence of the perversion of the organ of 


The second consequence is that the productions of amuse- 
nient-art, which are prepared in such terrific quantities by 
the armies of professional artists, enable the rich people of 
our times to live the lives they do, lives not only unnatural 
but in contradiction to the humane principles these people 
themselves profess. To live as do the rich, idle people, 
especially the women, far from nature and from animals, 
in artificial conditions, with muscles atrophied or inis- 
developed by gymnastics, and with enfeebled vital energy 
would be impossible were it not for what is called art 
for this occupation and amusement which hides from them 
the meaninglessness of their lives, and saves them from 
the dulness that oppresses them. Take from all these 
people the theatres, concerts, exhibitions, piano - playing, 
songs, and novels, with which they now fill their time 
in full confidence that occupation with these things is 
a very refined, sesthetical, and therefore good occupation; 
take from the patrons of art who buy pictures, assist 
musicians, and are acquainted with writers, their role of 
protectors of that important matter art, and they will 
not be able to continue such a life, but will all be eaten 
up by ennui and spleen, and will become conscious of 
the meaninglessness and wrongness of their present mode 
of life. Only occupation with what, among them, is con 
sidered art, renders it possible for them to continue to 
live on, infringing all natural conditions, without per 
ceiving the emptiness and cruelty of their lives. And this 
support afforded to the false manner of life pursued by 
the rich is the second consequence, and a serious one, of 
the perversion of art. 

The third consequence of the perversion of art is the 
perplexity produced in the minds of children and of plain 
folk. . Among people not perverted by the false theories 
of our society, among workers and children, there exists a 
very definite conception of what people may be respected 


and praised for. In the minds of peasants and children 
the ground for praise or eulogy can only be either physical 
strength : Hercules, the heroes and conquerors ; or moral, 
spiritual, strength : Sakya Muni giving up a beautiful wife 
and a kingdom to save mankind, Christ going to the 
cross for the truth he professed, and all the martyrs 
and the saints. Both are understood by peasants and 
children. They understand that physical strength must be 
respected, for it compels respect ; and the moral strength 
of goodness an unperverted man cannot fail to respect, 
because all his spiritual being draws him towards it. But 
these people, children and peasants, suddenly perceive that 
besides those praised, respected, and rewarded for physical or 
moral strength, there are others who are praised, extolled, 
and rewarded much more than the heroes of strength and 
virtue, merely because they sing well, compose verses, or 
dance. They see that singers, composers, painters, ballet- 
dancers, earn millions of roubles and receive more honour 
than the saints do : and peasants and children are per 

When 50 years had elapsed after Pushkin s death, and, 
simultaneously, the cheap edition of his works began to 
circulate among the people and a monument was erected to 
him in Moscow, I received more than a dozen letters from 
different peasants asking why Pushkin was raised to such 
dignity ? And only the other day a literate l man from 
Saratoff called on me who had evidently gone out of his 
mind over this very question. He was on his way to 
Moscow to expose the clergy for having taken part in 
raising a "monament" to Mr. Pushkin. 

Indeed one need only imagine to oneself what the state of 

1 In Russian it is customary to make a distinction between literate 
and illiterate people, i.e. between those who can and those who can 
not read. Literate in this sense does not imply that the man would 
speak or write correctly. Trans. 


mind of such a man of the people must be when he learns, 
from such rumours and newspapers as reach him, that the 
clergy, the Government officials, and all the best people in 
Russia are triumphantly unveiling a statue to a great man, 
the benefactor, the pride of Russia Pushkin, of whom till 
then he had never heard. From all sides ho reads or hears 
about this, and he naturally supposes that if such honours 
are rendered to anyone, then without doubt he must have 
done something extraordinary either some feat of strength 
or of goodness. He tries to learn who Pushkin was, and 
having discovered that Pushkin was neither a hero nor a 
general, but was a private person and a writer, he comes to 
the conclusion that Pushkin must have been a holy man 
and a teacher of goodness, and he hastens to read or to hear 
his life and works. But what must be his perplexity when 
he learns that Pushkin was a man of more than easy 
morals, who was killed in a duel, i.e. when attempting 
to murder another man, and that all his service consisted 
in writing verses about love, which were often very 

That a hero, or Alexander the Great, or Genghis Khan, or 
Napoleon were great, he understands, because any one of them 
could have crushed him and a thousand like him ; that 
Buddha, Socrates, and Christ were great he also understands, 
for he knows and feels that he and all men should be such 
as they were ; but why a man should be great because he 
wrote verses about the love of women he cannot make out. 

A similar perplexity must trouble the brain of a Breton 
or Norman peasant who hears that a monument, " une 
statue " (as to the Madonna), is being erected to Baudelaire, 
and reads, or is told, what the contents of his Fleurs du Mai 
are ; or, more amazing still, to Yerlaine, when he learns the 
story of that man s wretched, vicious life, and reads his 
verses. And what confusion it must cause in the brains 
of peasants when they learn that some Patti or Taglioni 


is paid 10,000 for a season, or that a painter gets as 
much for a picture, or that authors of novels describing 
love-scenes have received even more than that. 

And it is the same with children. I remember how I 
passed through this stage of amazement and stupefaction, 
and only reconciled myself to this exaltation of artists 
to the level of heroes and saints by lowering in my own 
estimation the importance of moral excellence, and by 
attributing a false, unnatural meaning to works of art. And 
a similar confusion must occur in the soul of each child 
and each man of the people when he learns of the strange 
honours and rewards that are lavished on artists. This is 
the third consequence of the false relation in which our 
society stands towards art. 

The fourth consequence is that people of the upper 
classes, more and more frequently encountering the contra 
dictions between beauty and goodness, put the ideal of 
beauty first, thus freeing themselves from the demands 
of morality. These people, reversing the roles, instead of 
admitting, as is really the case, that the art they serve is 
an antiquated affair, allege that morality is an antiquated 
affair, which can have no importance for people situated on 
that high plane of development on which they opine that 
they are situated. 

This result of the false relation to art showed itself in 
our society long ago ; but recently, with its prophet Nietzsche 
and his adherents, and with the decadents and certain 
English aesthetes who coincide with him, it is being 
expressed with especial impudence. The decadents, and 
aesthetes of the type at one time represented by Oscar Wilde, 
select as a theme for their productions the denial of morality 
and the laudation of vice. 

This art has partly generated, and partly coincides with, 
a similar philosophic theory. I recently received from 
America a book entitled " The Survival of the Fittest : 

1 82 WHAT IS ART? 

Philosophy of Power, 1896, by Ragnar Redbeard, Chicago." 
The substance of this book, as it is expressed in the editor s 
preface, is that to measure " right " by the false philosophy 
of the Hebrew prophets and " weepful " Messiahs is mad 
ness. Right is not the offspring of doctrine but of power. 
All laws, commandments, or doctrines as to not doing to 
another Avhat you do not wish done to you, have no 
inherent authority whatever, but receive it only from 
the club} the gallows, and the sword. A man truly free 
is under no obligation to obey any injunction, human or 
divine. Obedience is the sign of the degenerate.) Dis 
obedience is the stamp of the hero. Men should not be 
bound by moral rules invented by their foes. The whole 
world is a slippery battlefield. Ideal justice demands 
that the vanquished should be exploited, emasculated, and 
scorned. The free and brave may seize the world. And, 
therefore, there should be eternal war for life, for land, 
for love, for women, for power, and for gold. (Something 
similar was said a few years ago by the celebrated and 
refined academician, Vogue*. ) The earth and its treasures is 
" booty for the bold. "V> 

The author has evidently by himself, independently of 
Nietzsche, come to the same conclusions which are professed 
by the new artists. 

Expressed in the form of a doctrine these positions startle 
us. In reality they are implied in the ideal of art serving 
beauty. The art of our upper classes has educated people 
in this ideal of the over-man, 1 which is, in reality, the 
old ideal of Nero, Stenka Razin, 2 Genghis Khan, Robert 

1 The over-man (Uebermensch), in the Nietzschean philosophy, is 
that superior type of man whom the struggle for existence is to evolve, 
and who will seek only his own power and pleasure, will know nothing 
of pity, and will have the right, because he will possess the power, to 
make ordinary people serve him. Trans. 

2 Stenka Razin was by origin a common Cossack. His brother was 


Macaire, 1 or Napoleon, and all their accomplices, assist 
ants, and adulators and it supports this ideal with all its 

It is this supplanting of the ideal of what is right by 
the ideal of what is beautiful, i.e. of what is pleasant, 
that is the fourth consequence, and a terrible one, of 
the perversion of art in our society. It is fearful to 
think of what would befall humanity were such art to 
spread among the masses of the people. And it already 
begins to spread. 

Finally, the fifth and chief result is, that the art which 
nourishes in the upper classes of European society has a 
directly vitiating influence, infecting people with the worst 
feelings and with those most harmful to humanity supersti 
tion, patriotism, and, above all, sensuality. 

Look carefully into the causes of the ignorance of the 
masses, and you may see that the chief cause does not at all 
lie in the lack of schools and libraries, as we are accustomed 
to suppose, but in those superstitions, both ecclesiastical 
and patriotic, with which the people are saturated, and 
which are unceasingly generated by all the methods of art. 
Church superstitions are supported and produced by the 

hung for a breach of military discipline, and to this event Stenka 
Razin s hatred of the governing classes has been attributed. He 
formed a robber band, and subsequently headed a formidable re 
bellion, declaring himself in favour of freedom for the serfs, religious 
toleration, and the abolition of taxes. Like the Government lie 
opposed, he relied on force, and, though he used it largely in defence 
of the poor against the rich, he still held to 

" The good old rule, the simple plan, 
That they should take who have the power. 
And they should keep who can." 

Like Robin Hood he is favourably treated in popular legends. 

1 Robert Macaire is a modern type of adroit and audacious rascality. 
He was the hero of a popular play produced in Paris in 1834. Trans. 

1 84 } WHAT IS ART? 

poetry of prayers, hymns, painting, by the sculpture of 
images and of statues, by singing, by organs, by music, by 
architecture, and even by dramatic art in religious ceremonies. 
Patriotic superstitions are supported and produced by verses 
and stories, which are supplied even in schools, by music, 
by songs, by triumphal processions, by royal meetings, by 
martial pictures, and by monuments. 

Were it not for this continual activity in all departments 
of art, perpetuating the ecclesiastical and patriotic intoxica 
tion and embitterment of the people, the masses would 
long ere this have attained to true enlightenment. 

But it is not only in Church matters and patriotic 
matters that art depraves ; it is art in our time that serves 
as the chief cause of the perversion of people in the most 
important question of social life in their sexual relations. 
We nearly all know by our own experience, and those who 
are fathers and mothers know in the case of their grown-up 
children also, what fearful mental and physical suffering, 
what useless waste of strength, people suffer merely as a 
consequence of dissoluteness in sexual desire. 

Since the world began, since the Trojan war, which 
sprang from that same sexual dissoluteness, down to and 
including the suicides and murders of lovers described in 
almost every newspaper, a great proportion of the sufferings 
of the human race have come from this source. 

And what is art doing ? All art, real and counterfeit, with 
very few exceptions, is devoted to describing, depicting, and 
inflaming sexual love in every shape and form. When one 
remembers all those novels and their lust-kindling descrip 
tions of love, from the most refined to the grossest, with 
which the literature of our society overflows; if one. only 
remembers all those pictures and statues representing 
women s naked bodies, and all sorts of abominations which 
are reproduced in illustrations and advertisements ; if one 
only remembers all the filthy operas and operettas, songs 


and romances with which our world teems, involuntarily 
it seems as if existing art had but one definite aim to 
disseminate vice as widely as possible. 

Such, though not all, are the most direct consequences of 
that perversion of art which has occurred in our society. 
So that, what in our society is called art not only does not 
conduce to the progress of mankind, but, more than almost 
anything else, hinders the attainment of goodness in our 

And therefore the question which involuntarily presents 
itself to every man free from artistic activity and therefore 
not bound to existing art by self-interest, the question 
asked by me at the beginning of this work : Is it just that 
to what we call art, to a something belonging to but a small 
section of society, should be offered up such sacrifices of 
human labour, of human lives, and of goodness as are now 
being offered up ? receives the natural reply : No j it is un 
just, and these things should not be ! So also replies sound 
sense and unperverted moral feeling. Not only should 
these things not be, not only should no sacrifices be offered 
up to what among us is called art, but, on the contrary, 
the efforts of those who wish to live rightly should be 
directed towards the destruction of this art, for it is one 
of the most cruel of the evils that harass our section of 
humanity. So that, were the question put : Would it be 
preferable for our Christian world to be deprived of all 
that is now esteemed to be art, and, together with the 
false, to lose all that is good in it? I think that every 
reasonable and moral man would again decide the question 
as Plato decided it for his Republic, and as all the Church 
Christian and Mahommedan teachers of mankind decided 
it, i.e. would say, "Rather let there be no art at all than < 
continue the depraving art, or simulation of art, which now 
exists." Happily, no one has to face this question, and no 
one need adopt either solution. All that man can do, and 


that we the so-called educated people, who are so placed 
that we have the possibility of understanding the meaning 
of the phenomena of our life can and should do, is to 
understand the error) we are involved in, and not harden our 
hearts in it but seek for a way of escape. 


THE cause of the lie into which the art of our society has 
fallen was that people of the upper classes, having ceased 
to believe in the Church teaching (called Christian), did not 
resolve to accept true Christian teaching in its real and 
fundamental principles of sonship to God and brotherhood 
to man, but continued to live on without any belief, en 
deavouring to make up for the absence of belief some by 
hypocrisy, pretending still to believe in the nonsense of the 
Church creeds ; others by boldly asserting their disbelief ; 
others by refined agnosticism ; and others, again, by return 
ing to the Greek worship of beauty, proclaiming egotism to 
be right, and elevating it to the rank of a religious doctrine. 
The cause of the malady was the non-acceptance of Christ s 
teaching in its real, i.e. its full, meaning. And the only cure 
for the illness lies in acknowledging that teaching in its 
full meaning. And such acknowledgment in our time is 
not only possible but inevitable. Already to-day a man, 
standing on the height of the knowledge of our age, whether 
he be nominally a Catholic or a Protestant, cannot say that 
he really believes in the dogmas of the Church: in God 
being a Trinity, in Christ being God, in the scheme of 
redemption, and so forth nor can he satisfy himself by pro 
claiming his unbelief or scepticism, nor by relapsing into 
the worship of beauty and egotism. Above all, he can no 
longer say that we do not know the real meaning of Christ s 
teaching. That meaning has not only become accessible to 
all men of our times, but the whole life of man to-day is 


permeated by the spirit of that teaching, and, consciously 
or unconsciously, is guided by it. 

However differently in form people belonging to our 
Christian world may define the destiny of man; whether 
they see it in human progress in whatever sense of the 
words, in the union of all men in a socialistic realm, or 
in the establishment of a commune ; whether they look 
forward to the union of mankind under the guidance of 
one universal Church, or to the federation of the world, 
however various in form their definitions of the destination 
of human life may be, all men in our times already admit 
that the highest well -being attainable by men is to be 
reached by their union with one another. 

However people of our upper classes (feeling that their 
ascendency can only be maintained as long as they separate 
themselves the rich and learned from the labourers, the 
poor, and the unlearned) may seek to devise new conceptions 
of life by which their privileges may be perpetuated, now 
the ideal of returning to antiquity, now mysticism, now 
Hellenism, now the cult of the superior person (over 
man-ism), they have, willingly or unwillingly, to admit the 
truth which is elucidating itself from all sides, voluntarily 
and involuntarily, namely, that our welfare lies only in the 
unification and the brotherhood of man. 

Unconsciously this truth is confirmee! by the construction of 
means of communication, telegraphs, telephones, the press, 
and the ever-increasing attainability of material well-being for 
everyone, and, consciously it is affirmed by the destruction 
of ^superstitions which divide men, by the \diffusion of the 
truths of knowledge,. and by the expression of the ideal of 
the brotherhood of man in the best works of art of our time. 

Art is a spiritual organ of human life which cannot be 
destroyed, and therefore, notwithstanding all the efforts 
made by people of the upper classes to conceal the religious 
ideal by which humanity lives, that ideal is more and more 


clearly recognised by man, and even in our perverted society 
is more and more often partially expressed by science and 
by art. During the present century works of the higher 
kind of religious art have appeared more and more fre 
quently, both in literature and in painting, permeated by a 
truly Christian spirit, as also works of the universal art 
of common life, accessible to all. So that even art knows 
the true ideal of our times, and tends towards it. On 
the one hand, the best works of art of our times transmit 
religious feelings urging towards the union and the brother 
hood of man (such are the works of Dickens, Hugo, 
Dostoievsky; and in painting, of Millet, Bastien Lepage, 
Jules Breton, L Hermitte, and others) ; on the other hand, 
they strive towards the transmission, not of feelings which 
are natural to people of the upper classes only, but of such 
feelings as may unite everyone without exception. There 
are as yet few such works, but the need of them is already 
acknowledged. In recent times we also meet more and more 
frequently with attempts at publications, pictures, concerts, 
and theatres for the people. All this is still very far from 
accomplishing what should be done, but already the direction 
in which good art instinctively presses forward to regain 
the path natural to it can be discerned. 

The religious perception of our time which consists in 
acknowledging that the aim of life (both collective and 
individual) is the union of mankind is already so suffi 
ciently distinct that people have now only to reject the false 
theory of beauty, according to which enjoyment is considered 
to be the purpose of art, and religious perception will 
naturally takes its place as the guide of the art of our time. 

And as soon as the religious perception, which already 
unconsciously directs the" life of man, is consciously acknow 
ledged, then immediately and :iaturally the division of 
art, into art for the lower and art for the upper classes, 
will disappear. There Avill be one common, brotherly, 

i go WHAT IS ART? 

universal art ; and first, that art will naturally be rejected 
which transmits feelings incompatible with the religious 
perception of our time, feelings which do not unite, but 
divide men, and then that insignificant, exclusive art will 
be rejected to which an importance is now attached to which 
it has no right. 

And as soon as this occurs, art will immediately cease to 
be, what it has been in recent times : a means of making 
people coarser and more vicious, and it will become, what 
it always used to be and should be, a means by which 
humanity progresses towards unity and blessedness. 

Strange as the comparison may sound, what has happened 
to the art of our circle and time is what happens to a woman 
who sells her womanly attractiveness, intended for maternity, 
for the pleasure of those who desire such pleasures. 

The art of our time and of our circle has become a (pros 
titute; And this comparison holds good even in minute 
details. Like her it is not limited to certain times, like her 
it is always adorned, like her it is always saleable, ; and like 
her it is enticing and ruinous. 

A real work of art can only arise in the soul of an artist 
occasionally, as the fruit of the life he has lived, just as a 
child is" conceived by its mother. But counterfeit art is 
produced by artisans and handicraftsmen continually, if only 
consumers can be found. 

Eeal art, like the wife of an affectionate husband, needs 
no ornaments. But counterfeit art, like a prostitute, must 
always be decked out. 

The cause of the production of real art is the artist s inner 
need to express a feeling that has accumulated, just as for a 
mother the cause of sexual conception is Jove. The cause 
of counterfeit art, as of prostitution, is gain. 

The consequence of true art is the introduction of a new 
feeling into the intercourse of life, as the consequence of a 
wife s love is the birth of a new man into life. 

WHAT IS ART ? 191 

The consequences of counterfeit art are the perversion of 
man, pleasure which never satisfies, and the weakening of 
man s spiritual strength. 

And this is what people of our day and of our circle 
should understand, in order to avoid the filthy torrent of 
depraved and prostituted art with which we are deluged. 


PEOPLE talk of the art of the future, meaning by " art of 
the future " some especially refined, new art, which, as they 
imagine, will be developed out of that exclusive art of one 
class which is now considered the highest art. But no such 
new art of the future can or will be found. Our exclusive 
art, that of the upper classes of Christendom, has found its 
way into a blind alley. The direction in which it has been 
going leads nowhere. Having once let go of that which is 
most essential for art (namely, the guidance given by 
^ \religious perception), that art has become ever more and 
more exclusive, and therefore ever more and more perverted, 
until, finally, it has come tojnothing. The art of the future, 
that which is really coming, will not be a development of 
present-day art, but will arise on completely other and ne^J 
"\foundations^ having nothing in common with those by which 
our present art of the upper classes is guided. 

Art of the future, that is to say, such part of art as 
will be chosen from among all the art diffused among man 
kind, will consist, not in transmitting feelings accessible only 
to members of the rich classes, as is the case to-day, but in 
transmitting such feelings as embody the highest religious 
perception of our times. Only those productions will be 
considered art which transmit feelings drawing men together 
in brotherly union, or such universal feelings as can unite all 
,jmen. Only such art will be chosen, tolerated, approved, and 
diffused. But a*t transmitting feelings flowing from anti 
quated, worn-out religious teaching, Church art, patriotic art, 



voluptuous art, transmitting feelings of superstitious fear, of 
pride, of vanity, of ecstatic admiration of national heroes, 
art exciting exclusive love of one s own people, or sensuality, 
will be considered bad, harmful art, and will be censured and 
despised by public opinion. All the rest of art, transmitting 
feelings accessible only to a section of people, will be con 
sidered unimportant, and will be neither blamed nor praised. 
And the appraisement of art in general will devolve, not, 
as is now the case, on a separate class of rich people, but on 
the whole people ; so that for a work to be esteemed good, 
and to be approved of and diffused, it will have to satisfy 
the demands, not of a few people living in. identical and 
often unnatural conditions, but it will have to satisfy the 
demands of all those great masses of people who are 
situated in the natural conditions of laborious life. 

And the artists producing art will also not be, as now, 
merely a few people selected from a small section of the 
nation, members of the upper classes or their hangers-on, 
but will consist of all those gifted members of the whole 
people who prove capable of, and are inclined towards, 
artistic activity. 

Artistic activity will then be accessible to all men. It 
will become accessible to the whole people, because, in 
the first place, in the art of the future, not only will that 
complex technique, which deforms the productions of the 
art of to-day and requires so great an effort and expenditure 
of time, not be demanded, but, on the contrary, the demand 
will be for clearness, simplicity, and brevity conditions 
mastered not by mechanical exercises but by the education of 
taste. And secondly, artistic activity will become accessible 
to all men of the people because, instead of the present 
professional schools which only some can enter, all \vili 
learn music and depictive art (singing and drawing) equally 
with letters in the elementary schools, and in such a way 
that every man, having received the first principles of draw- 


ing and music, and feeling a capacity for, and a call to, one 
or other of the arts, will be able to perfect himself in it. 

People think that if there are no special art-schools the 
technique of art will deteriorate. Undoubtedly, if by 
technique we understand those complications of art which 
are now considered an excellence, it will deteriorate ; but if 
by technique is understood clearness, beauty, simplicity, 
and compression in works of art, then, even if the elements 
of drawing and music were not to be taught in the national 
schools, the technique will not only not deteriorate, but, 
as is shown by all peasant art, will be a hundred times 
better. It will be improved, because all the artists of 
genius now hidden among the masses will become pro 
ducers of art and will give models of excellence, whicli 
(as has always been the case) will be the best schools of 
technique for their successors. For every true artist, even 
now, learns his technique, chiefly, not in the schools but in 
life, from the examples of the great masters ; then when 
the producers of art will be the best artists of the whole 
nation, and there will be more such examples, and they 
will be more accessible such part of the school training as 
the future artist will lose will be a hundredfold compen 
sated for by the training he will receive from the numerous 
examples of good art diffused in society. 

Such will be one difference between present and future 
art. Another difference will be that art will not be pro 
duced by professional artists receiving payment for their 
work and engaged on nothing else besides their art. The 
art of the future will be produced by all the members of 
the community who feel the need of such activity, but they 
will occupy themselves with art only when they feel such 

In our society people think that an artist will .work 
better, and produce more, if he has a secured maintenance. 
And this opinion would serve once more to show clearly, 


were such demonstration still needed, that what among 
us is considered art is not art, but only its counterfeit. It 
is quite true that for the production of boots or loaves 
division of labour is very advantageous, and that the 
bootmaker or baker who need not prepare his own dinner 
or fetch his own fuel will make more boots or loaves 
than if he had to busy himself about these matters. But 
art is not a handicraft ; it is the transmission of feeling 
the artist has experienced. And sound feeling can only be 
engendered in a man when he is living on all its sides the 
life natural and proper to mankind. And therefore security 
of maintenance is a condition most harmful to an artist s 
true productiveness, since it removes him from the condition 
natural to all men, that of struggle with nature for the 
maintenance of both his own life and that of others, 
and thus deprives him of opportunity and possibility to 
experience the most important and natural feelings of man. 
There is no position more injurious to an artist s productive 
ness than that position of complete security and luxury in 
which artists usually live in our society. 

The artist of the future will live the common life of man, 
earning his subsistence by some kind of labour. The fruits 
of that highest spiritual strength which passes through him 
he will try to share with the greatest possible number of 
people, for in such transmission to others of the feelings 
that have arisen in him he will find his happiness and 
his reward. The artist of the future will be unable to 
understand how an artist, whose chief delight is in the 
wide diffusion of his works, could give them only in 
exchange for a certain payment. 

Until the dealers are driven out, the temple of art will 
not be a temple. But the art of the future will drive them 

And therefore the subject-matter of the art of the future, as 
I imagine it to myself, will be totally unlike that of to-day. 


It will consist, not in the expression of exclusive feel 
ings : pride, spleen, satiety, and all possible forms of volup 
tuousness, available and interesting only to people who, 
by force, have freed themselves from the labour natural to 
human beings ; but it will consist in the expression of feel 
ings experienced by a man living the life natural to all 
men and flowing from the religious perception of our times, 
or of such feelings as are open to all men without exception. 

To people of our circle who do not know, and cannot or 
will not understand the feelings which will form the subject- 
matter of the art of the future, such subject-matter appears 
very poor in comparison with those subtleties of exclusive 
art with which they are now occupied. " What is there 
fresh to be said in the sphere of the Christian feeling of 
love of one s fellow-man 1 ? The feelings common to 
everyone are so insignificant and monotonous," think they. 
And yet, in our time, the really fresh feelings can only be 
religious, Christian feelings, and such as are open, accessible, to 
all. The feelings flowing from the religious perception of our 
times, Christian feelings, are infinitely new and varied, only 
not in the sense some people imagine, not that they can 
be evoked by the depiction of Christ and of Gospel episodes, 
or by repeating in new forms the Christian truths of unity, 
brotherhood, equality, and love, but in that all the oldest, 
commonest, and most hackneyed phenomena of life evoke 
the newest, most unexpected and touching emotions as soon 
as a man regards them from the Christian point of view. 

What can be older than the relations between married 
couples, of parents to children, of children to parents ; the 
relations of men to their fellow-countrymen and to for 
eigners, to an invasion, to defence, to property, to the land, 
or to animals 1 But as soon as a man regards these matters 
from the Christian point of view, endlessly varied, fresh, 
complex, and strong emotions immediately arise. 

And, in the same way, that realm of subject-matter for 

WHA7 IS ART? 197 

the art of the future which relates to the simplest 
feelings of common life open to all will not be narrowed 
but widened. In our former art only the expression of 
feelings natural to people of a certain exceptional position 
was considered worthy of being transmitted by art, and 
even then only on condition that these feelings were trans 
mitted in a most refined manner, incomprehensible to the 
majority of men; all the immense realm of folk-art, and 
children s art jests, proverbs, riddles, songs, dances, 
children s games, and mimicry was not esteemed a domain 
worthy of art. 

The artist of the future w r ill understand that to compose 
a fairy-tale, a little song which will touch, a lullaby or a 
riddle which will entertain, a jest which will amuse, or to 
draw a sketch \vhich will delight dozens of generations 
or millions of children and adults, is incomparably more 
important and more fruitful than to compose a novel or 
a symphony, or paint a picture which will divert some 
members of the wealthy classes for a short time, and then 
be for ever forgotten. The region of this art of the simple 
feelings accessible to all is enormous, and it is as yet almost 

The art of the future, therefore, will not be poorer, but 
infinitely richer in subject-matter. And the form of the art of 
the future will also not be inferior to the present forms of art, 
but infinitely superior to them. Superior, not in the sense 
of having a refined and complex technique, but in the 
sense of the capacity briefly, simply, and clearly to transmit, 
without any superfluities, the feeling which the artist has 
experienced and wishes to transmit. 

I remember once speaking to a famous astronomer who 
had given public lectures on the spectrum analysis of the 
stars of the Milky Way, and saying it would be a good thing 
if, with his knowledge and masterly delivery, he would give 
a lecture merely on the formation and movements of the 

198 WffA T IS ART ? 

earth, for certainly there were many people at his lecture 
on the spectrum analysis of the stars of the Milky Way, 
especially among the women, who did not well know why 
night follows day and summer follows winter. The wise 
astronomer smiled as he answered, " Yes, it would be a 
good thing, but it would be very difficult. To lecture on 
the spectrum analysis of the Milky Way is far easier." 

And so it is in art. To write a rhymed poem dealing 
with the times of Cleopatra, or paint a picture of Xero 
burning Rome, or compose a symphony in the manner of 
Brahms or Richard Strauss, or an opera like Wagner s, is 
far easier than to >tell a simple story without any unneces 
sary details, yet so that it should transmit the feelings of 
the narrator, or to draw a pencil-sketch which should 
touch or amuse the beholder, or to compose four bars 
of clear and simple melody, without any accompaniment, 
which should convey an impression and be remembered by 
those who hear it. 

" It is impossible for us, with our culture, to return to a 
primitive state," say the artists of our time. " It is impos 
sible for us now to write such stories as that of Joseph or 
the Odyssey, to produce such statues as the Venus of Milo, 
or to compose such music as the folk-songs." 

And indeed, for the artists of our society and day, it is 
impossible, but not for the future artist, who will be free 
from, all the perversion of technical improvements hiding 
the absence of subject-matter, and who, not being a profes 
sional artist and receiving no payment for his activity, will 
only produce art when he feels impelled to do so by an 
irresistible inner impulse. 

The art of the future will thus be completely distinct, 
both in subject-matter and in form, from what is now called 
art. The only subject-matter of the art of the future will 
be either feelings drawing men towards union, or such as 
already unite them ; and the forms of art will be such as 


will be open to everyone. And therefore, the ideal of 
excellence in the fmure will not be the exclusiveness of feel 
ing, accessible only to some, but, on the contrary, its uni 
versality. And not bulkiness, obscurity, and complexity of 
form, as is now esteemed, but, on the contrary, brevity, 
clearness, and simplicity of expression. Only when art has 
attained to that, will art neither divert nor deprave men as 
it does now, calling on them to expend their best strength 
on it, but be what it should be a vehicle wherewith 
to transmit religious, Christian perception from the realm of 
reason and intellect into that of feeling, and really drawing 
people in actual life nearer to that perfection and unity 
indicated to them by their religious perception. 



I HAVE accomplished, to the best of my ability, this work 
which has occupied me for 15 years, on a subject near to me 
that of art. By saying that this subject has occupied me 
for 15 years, I do not mean that I have been writing this 
book 15 years, but only that I began to write on art 15 
years ago, thinking that when once I undertook the task I 
should be able to accomplish it without a break. It proved, 
however, that my views on the matter then were so far from 
clear that I could not arrange them in a way that satis 
fied me. From that time I have never ceased to think 
on the subject, and I have recommenced to write on it 6 
or 7 times ; but each time, after writing a considerable part 
of it, I have found myself unable to bring the work to a 
satisfactory conclusion, and have had to put it aside. Now 
I have finished it; and however badly I may have per 
formed the task, my hope is that my fundamental thought as 
to the false direction the art of our society has taken and is 
following, as to the reasons of this, and as to the real 
destination of art, is correct, and that therefore my work 
will not be without avail. But that this should come to 
pass, and that art should really abandon its false path and 
take the new direction, it is necessary that another equally 
important human spiritual activity, science, in intimate 
dependence on which art always rests, should abandon the 
false path which it too, like art, is following. 



Science and art are as closely bound together as the lungs 
and the heart, so that if one organ is vitiated the other 
cannot act rightly. 

True science investigates and brings to human perception 
such truths and such knowledge as the people of a given 
time and society consider most important. Art transmits 
these truths from the region of perception to the region of 
emotion. Therefore, if the path chosen by science be false 
so also will be the path taken by art. Science and art are like 
a certain kind of barge with kedge-anchors which used to ply 
on our rivers. Science, like the boats which took the anchors 
up-stream and made them secure, gives direction to the 
forward movement ; while art, like the windlass worked on 
the barge to draw it towards the anchor, causes the actual 
progression. And thus a false activity of science inevitably 
causes a correspondingly false activity of art. 

As art in general is the transmission of every kind of 
feeling, but in the limited sense of the word we only call 
that art which transmits feelings acknowledged by us to be 
important, so also science in general is the transmission of 
all possible knowledge ; but in the limited sense of the word 
we call science that which transmits knowledge acknow 
ledged by us to be important. 

And the degree of importance, both of the feelings trans 
mitted by art and of the information transmitted by science, 
is decided by the religious perception of the given time and 
society, i.e. by the common understanding of the purpose 
of their lives possessed by the people of that time or 

That which most of all contributes to the fulfilment of that 
purpose will be studied most ; that which contributes less 
will be studied less ; that which does not contribute at all 
to the fulfilment of the purpose of human life will be entirely 
neglected, or, if studied, such study will not be accounted 
science. So it always has been, and so it should be now ; 


for such is the nature of human knowledge and of human 
life. But the science of the upper classes of our time, which 
not only does not acknowledge any religion, but considers 
every religion to be mere superstition, could not and cannot 
make such distinctions. 

Scientists of our day affirm that they study everything 
impartially; but as everything is too much (is in fact an 
infinite number of objects), and as it is impossible to study 
all alike, this is only said in the theory, while in practice 
not everything is studied, and study is applied far from 
impartially, only that being studied which, on the one hand, 
is most wanted by, and on the other hand, is pleasantest 
to those people who occupy themselves with science. And 
what the people, belonging to the upper classes, who are 
occupying themselves with science most want is the main 
tenance of the system under which those classes retain their 
privileges ; and what is pleasantest are such things as satisfy 
idle curiosity, do not demand great mental efforts, and can 
be practically applied. 

And therefore one side of science, including theology and 
philosophy adapted to the existing order, as also history and 
political economy of the same sort, are chiefly occupied in 
proving that the existing order is the very one which ought 
to exist ; that it has come into existence and continues to 
exist by the operation of immutable laws not amenable to 
human will, and that all efforts to change it are therefore 
harmful and wrong. The other part, experimental science, 
including mathematics, astronomy, chemistry, physics, 
botany, and all the natural sciences, is exclusively occupied 
with things that have no direct relation to human life : 
with what is curious, and with things of which practical 
application advantageous to people of the upper classes can 
be made. And to justify that selection of objects of study 
which (in conformity to their own position) the men of 
science of our times have made, they have devised a theory 


of science for science s sake, quite similar to the theory of 
art for art s sake. 

As by the theory of art for art s sake it appears that 
occupation with all those things that please us is art, so, 
by the theory of science for science s sake, the study of 
that which interests us is science. 

So that one side of science, instead of studying how people 
should live in order to fulfil their mission in life, demon 
strates the righteousness and immutability of the bad and 
false arrangements of life which exist around us ; while the 
other part, experimental science, occupies itself with ques 
tions of simple curiosity or with technical improvements. 

The first of these divisions of science is harmful, nob 
only because it confuses people s perceptions and gives false 
decisions, but also because it exists, and occupies the ground 
which should belong to true science. It does this harm, 
that each man, in order to approach the study of the most 
important questions of life, must first refute these erections 
of lies which have during ages been piled around each of" 
the most essential questions of human life, and which are 
propped up by all the strength of human ingenuity. 

The second division the one of which modem science 
is so particularly proud, and which is considered by many 
people to be the only real science is harmful in that it 
diverts attention from the really important subjects to in 
significant subjects, and is also directly harmful in that, 
under the evil system of society which the first division of 
science justifies and supports, a great part of the technical 
gains of science are turned not to the advantage but to the 
injury of mankind. 

Indeed it is only to those who are devoting their lives to> 
such study that it seems as if all the inventions which are 
made in the sphere of natural science were very important 
and useful things. And to these people it seems so only 
when they do not look around them and do not see what is 


really important. They only need tear themselves away 
from the psychological microscope under which they ex 
amine the objects of their study, and look about them, in 
order to see how insignificant is all that has afforded them 
such naive pride, all that knowledge not only of geometry 
of n-dimensions, spectrum analysis of the Milky Way, the 
form of atoms, dimensions of human skulls of the Stone Age, 
and similar trifles, but even our knowledge of micro 
organisms, X-rays, etc., in comparison with such knowledge 
as we have thrown aside and handed over to the perver 
sions of the professors of theology, jurisprudence, political 
economy, financial science, etc. We need only look around 
us to perceive that the activity proper to real science is 
not the study of whatever happens to interest us, but the 
study of how man s life should be established, the study 
of those questions of religion, morality, and social life, 
without the solution of which all our knowledge of nature 
will be harmful or insignificant. 

We are highly delighted and very proud that our science 
renders it possible to utilise the energy of a waterfall and 
make it work in factories, or that we have pierced tunnels 
through mountains, and so forth. But the pity of it is 
that we make the force of the waterfall labour, not for 
the benefit of the workmen, but to enrich capitalists who 
produce articles of luxury or weapons of man-destroying 
war. The same dynamite with which we blast the moun 
tains to pierce tunnels, we use for wars, from which latter 
we not only do not intend to abstain, but which we consider 
inevitable, and for which we unceasingly prepare. 

If we are now able to inoculate preventatively with 
diphtheritic microbes, to find a needle in a body by means 
of X-rays, to straighten a hunched-back, cure syphilis, and 
perform wonderful operations, we should not be proud of 
these acquisitions either (even were they all established 
beyond dispute) if we fully understood the true purpose 


of real science. If but one-tenth of the efforts now spent on 
objects of pure curiosity or of merely practical application 
were expended on real science organising the life of man, 
more than half the people now sick would not have the 
illnesses from which a small minority of them now get 
cured in hospitals. There would be no poor-blooded and 
deformed children growing up in factories, no death-rates, 
as now, of 50 per cent, among children, no deterioration 
of whole generations, no prostitution, no syphilis, and no 
murdering of hundreds of thousands in wars, nor those 
horrors of folly and of misery which our present science 
considers a necessary condition of human life. 

We have so perverted the conception of science that it 
seems strange to men of our day to allude to sciences which 
should prevent the mortality of children, prostitution, 
syphilis, the deterioration of whole generations, and the 
wholesale murder of men. It seems to us that science is 
only then real science when a man in a laboratory pours 
liquids from one jar into another, or analyses the spectrum, 
or cuts up frogs and porpoises, or weaves in a specialised, 
scientific jargon an obscure network of conventional 
phrases theological, philosophical, historical, juridical, or 
politico-economical semi-intelligible to the man himself, and 
intended to demonstrate that what now is, is what should be. 

But science, true science, such science as would really 
deserve the respect which is now claimed by the followers 
of one (the least important) part of science, is not at all such 
as this : real science lies in knowing what we should and 
what we should not believe, in knowing how the associated 
life of man should and should not be constituted ; how to 
treat sexual relations, how to educate children, how to use 
the land, how to cultivate it oneself without oppressing 
other people, how to treat foreigners, how to treat animals, 
and much more that is important for the life of man. 

Such has true science ever been and such it should be. 


And such science is springing up in our times; but, on 
the one hand, such true science is denied and refuted by 
all those scientific people who defend the existing order 
of society, and, on the other hand, it is considered empty, 
unnecessary, unscientific science by those who are engrossed 
in experimental science. 

For instance, books and sermons appear, demonstrating 
the antiquatedness and absurdity of Church dogmas, as well 
as the necessity of establishing a reasonable religious percep 
tion suitable to our times, and all the theology that is con 
sidered to be real science is only engaged in refuting these 
works and in exercising human intelligence again and again 
to find support and justification for superstitions long since 
out-lived, and which have now become quite meaningless. Or 
a sermon appears showing that land should not be an object 
of private possession, and that the institution of private? 
property in land is a chief cause of the poverty of the 
masses. Apparently science, real science, should welcome 
such a sermon and draw further deductions from this posi 
tion. But the science of our times does nothing of the 
kind : on the contrary, political economy demonstrates the 
opposite position, namely, that landed property, like every 
other form of property, must be more and more concentrated 
in the hands of a small number of owners. Again, in the 
same way, one would suppose it to be the business of real 
science to demonstrate the irrationality, unprofitableness, and 
immorality of war and of executions; or the inhumanity 
and harmf ulness of prostitution ; or the absurdity, harmful- 
ness, and immorality of using narcotics or of eating animals ; 
or the irrationality, harmfulness, and antiquatedness of 
patriotism. And such works exist, but are all considered 
unscientific; while works to prove that all these things 
ought to continue, and works intended to satisfy an idle 
thirst for knowledge lacking any relation to human life, are 
considered to be scientific. 


The deviation of the science of our time from its true 
purpose is strikingly illustrated by those ideals which are 
put forward by some scientists, and are not denied, but 
admitted, by the majority of scientific men. 

These ideals are expressed not only in stupid, fashionable 
books, describing the world as it will be in 1000 or 3000 
years time, but also by sociologists who consider themselves 
serious men of science! These ideals are that food instead 
of being obtained from the land by agriculture, will be pre 
pared in laboratories by chemical means, and that human 
labour will be almost entirely superseded by the utilisation 
of natural forces. 

Man will not, as now, eat an egg laid by a hen he has 
kept, or bread grown on his field, or an apple from a tree he 
has reared and which has blossomed and matured in his 
sight ; but he will eat tasty, nutritious, food which will be 
prepared in laboratories by the conjoint labour of many 
people in which he will take a small part. Man will hardly 
need to labour, so that all men will be able to yield to 
idleness as the upper, ruling classes now yield to it. 

Nothing shows more plainly than these ideals to what a 
degree the science of our times has deviated from the true 

The great majority of men in our times lack good and 
sufficient food (as well as dwellings and clothes and all the 
first necessaries of life). And this great majority of men is 
compelled, to the injury of its well-being, to labour con 
tinually beyond its strength. Both these evils can easily be 
removed by abolishing mutual strife, luxury, and the un 
righteous distribution of wealth, in a word by the abolition 
of a false and harmful order and the establishment of a 
reasonable, human manner of life. But science considers the 
existing order of things to be as immutable as the move 
ments of the planets, and therefore assumes that the purpose 
of science is not to elucidate the falseness of this order and 


to arrange a new, reasonable way of life but, under the 
existing order of things, to feed everybody and enable all to be 
as idle as the ruling classes, who live a depraved life, now are. 

And, meanwhile, it is forgotten that nourishment with 
corn, vegetables, and fruit raised from the soil by one s own 
labour is the pleasantest, healthiest, easiest, and most natural 
nourishment, and that the work of using one s muscles is as 
necessary a condition of life as is the oxidation of the blood 
by breathing. 

To invent means whereby people might, while continuing 
our false division of property and labour, be well nourished 
by means of chemically-prepared food, and might make the 
forces of nature work for them, is like inventing means to 
pump oxygen into the lungs of a man kept in a closed 
chamber the air of which is bad, when all that is needed is 
to cease to confine the man in the closed chamber. 

In the vegetable and animal kingdoms a laboratory for 
the production of food has been arranged, such as can be 
surpassed by no professors, and to enjoy the fruits of this 
laboratory, and to participate in it, man has only to yield to 
that ever joyful impulse to labour, without which man s 
life is a torment. And lo and behold, the scientists of our 
times, instead of employing all their strength to abolish what 
ever hinders man from utilising the good things prepared for 
him, acknowledge the conditions under which man is deprived 
of these blessings to be unalterable, and instead of arranging 
the life of man so that he might work joyfully and be fed 
from the soil, they devise methods which will cause him to 
become an artificial abortion. It is like not helping a man 
out of confinement into the fresh air, but devising means, 
instead, to pump into him the necessary quantity of oxygen 
and arranging so that he may live in a stifling cellar instead 
of living at home. 

Such false ideals could not exist if science were not on a 
false path. 


And yet the feelings transmitted by art grow up on the 
bases supplied by science. 

But what feelings can such misdirected science evoke? 
One side of this science evokes antiquated feelings, which 
humanity has used up, and which, in our times, are bad and 
exclusive. The other side, occupied with the study of sub 
jects unrelated to the conduct of human life, by its very 
nature cannot serve as a basis for art. 

So that art in our times, to be art, must either open up its 
own road independently of science, or must take direction 
from the unrecognised science which is denounced by the 
orthodox section of science. And this is what art, when 
it even partially fulfils its mission, is doing. 

It is to be hoped that the work I have tried to perform 
concerning art will be performed also for science that the 
falseness of the theory of science for science s sake will be 
demonstrated; that the necessity of acknowledging Chris 
tian teaching in its true meaning will be clearly shown, 
that on the basis of that teaching a reappraisement will 
be made of the knowledge we possess, arid of which we 
are so proud ; that the secondariness and insignificance of 
experimental science, and the primacy and importance of 
religious, moral, and social knowledge will be established ; 
and that such knowledge will not, as now, be left to the guid 
ance of the upper classes only, but will form a chief interest 
of all free, truth-loving men, such as those who, not in agree 
ment with the upper classes but in their despite, have 
always forwarded the real science of life. 

Astronomical, physical, chemical, and biological science, 
as also technical and medical science, will be studied only in 
so far as they can help to free mankind from religious, 
juridical, or social deceptions, or can serve to promote the 
well-being of all men, and not of any single class. 

Only then will science cease to be what it is now on the 
one hand a system of sophistries, needed for the maintenance 


of the existing worn-out order of society, and, on the other 
hand, a shapeless mass of miscellaneous knowledge, for the 
most part good for little or nothing and become a shapely 
and organic whole, having a definite and reasonable pur 
pose comprehensible to all men, namely, the purpose of 
bringing to the consciousness of men the truths that flow 
from the religious perception of our times. 

And only then will art, which is always dependent on 
science, be what it might and should be, an organ coequally 
important with science for the life and progress of mankind. 

Art is not a pleasure, a solace, or an amusement ; art is a 
great matter. Art is an organ of human life, transmitting 
man s reasonable perception into feeling. In our age the 
common religious perception of men is the consciousness of 
the brotherhood of man we know that the well-being of 
man lies in union with his fellow -men. True science 
should indicate the various methods of applying this con 
sciousness to life. Art should transform this perception 
into feeling. 

The task of art is enormous. Through the influence of 
real art, aided by science guided by religion, that peace 
ful co-operation of man which is now obtained by external 
means by our law-courts, police, charitable institutions, 
factory inspection, etc. should be obtained by man s free 
and joyous activity. Art should cause violence to be set 

And it is only art that can accomplish this. 

All that now, independently of the fear of violence ano! 
punishment, makes the social life of man possible (and 
already now this is an enormous part of the order of our 
lives) all this has been brought about by art. If by art 
it has been inculcated how people should treat religious 
objects, their parents, their children, their wives, their 
relations, strangers, foreigners; how to conduct themselves 
to their elders, their superiors, to those who suffer, to- 


their enemies, and to animals ; and if this h * 
through generations by millions of people, not only un- 
enforced by any violence, but so that the foi $ of \ 
customs can be shaken in no way but by means of art : 
then, by the same art, other customs, more in 
with the religious perception of our time, may be e\ it 
If art has been able to convey the sentiment of reverence 
for images, for the eucharist, and for the king s person 
of shame at betraying a comrade, devotion to a flag, the 
necessity of revenge for an insult, the need to sacrifice one s 
labour for the erection and adornment of churches, the 
duty of defending one s honour or the glory of one s native 
land then that same art can also evoke reverence for the- 
dignity of every man and for the life of every animal ; can 
make men ashamed of luxury, of violence, of revenge, or of 
using for their pleasure that of which others are in need \ 
can compel people freely, gladly, and without noticing it,, 
to sacrifice themselves in the service of man. 

The task for art to accomplish is to make that feeling 
of brotherhood and love of one s neighbour, now attained 
only by the best members of the society, the customary 
feeling and the instinct of all men. By evoking, under 
imaginary conditions, the feeling of brotherhood and love,, 
religious art will train men to experience those same 
feelings under similar circumstances in actual life ; it will 
lay in the souls of men the rails along which the actions 
of those whom art thus educates will naturally pass. And 
universal art, by uniting the most different people in one 
common feeling, by destroying separation, will educate 
people to union, will show them, not by reason but by life 
itself, the joy of universal union reaching beyond the bounds 
set by life. 

The destiny of art in our time is to transmit from the 
realm of reason to the realm of feeling the truth that well- 
being for men consists in being united together, and to set 


up, in place of the existing reign of force, that kingdom of 
God, i.e. of love, which we all recognise to be the highest 
aim of human life. 

Possibly, in the future, science may reveal to art yet 
newer and higher ideals, which art may realise ; but, in our 
time, the destiny of art is clear and definite. The task for 
Christian art is to establish brotherly union among men. 




This is the first page of Mallarm^ s book Divagations : 

Un. ciel pale, sur le monde qui finit de decrepitude, va 
peut-etre partir avec les images : les lambeaux de la pourpre 
usee des couchants deteignent dans ime riviere dormant a 
Fhorizon submerge de rayons et d eau. Les arbres s ennuient, 
et, sous leur feuillage blanchi (de la poussiere du temps 
plutot que celle des chemins) monte la maison en toile de 
Montreur de choses Passees : maint ruverbere attend le 
crepuscule et ravive les visages d ime malheureuse foule, 
vaincue par la maladie immortelle et le pe che des siecles, 
d hommes pres de leurs chetives complices enceintes des 
fruits miserables avec lesquels perira la terre. Dans le 
silence inquiet de tous les yeux suppliant la-bas le soleil qui, 
sous 1 eau, s enfonce avec le desespoir d un cri, voici le 
simple boniment : "iS T ulle enseigne ne vous regale du 
spectacle interieur, car il n est pas maintenant un peintre 
capable d en donner une ombre triste. J apporte, vivante 
(et preservee a travers les ans par la science souveraine) une 
Femme d autrefois. Quelque folie, originelle et naive, une 
extase d or, je ne sais quoi ! par elle nomme sa chevelure, se 

2i 6 WHAT IS ART? 

ploie avec la grace ties e toffes autour d un visage qu eclaire 
la nudito sanglante de ses levres. A la place du vetement 
vain, elle a un corps ; et les yeux, semblables aux pierres 
rares ! ne valent pas ce regard qui sort de sa chair heureuse : 
des seins leves comme s ils etaient pleins d un lait eternel, la 
pointe vers le ciel, les jambes lisses qui gardent le sel de la 
me i 1 premiere." Se rappelant leurs pauvres Spouses, chauves, 
morbides et pleines d horreur, les maris se pressent : elles 
aussi par curiosite, melancoliques, veulent voir. 

Quand tons auront cbntemple la noble creature, vestige 
de quelque cpoque deja maudite, les uns indifferents, car ils 
n auront pas eu la force de comprendre, mais d autres navres 
et la paupiere humide de larmes resignees, se regarderont ; 
tandis one les poetes de ces temps, sentant se rallumer leur 
yeux eteints, s achemineront vers leur lampe, le cerveau ivre 
mi instant d une gloire confuse, hantes du Ry thine et dans 
1 oubli d exister a une epoque qui survit a la beaute. 


A pale sky, above the world that is ending through decrepitude, 
going perhaps to pass away with the clouds : shreds of worn-out 
purple of the sunsets wash off their colour in a river sleeping on the 
horizon, submerged with rays and water. The trees are weary and, 
beneath their foliage, whitened (by the dust of time rather than that 
of the roads), rises the canvas house of "Showman of things Past." 
Many a lamp awaits the gloaming and brightens the faces of a 
miserable crowd vanquished by the immortal illness and the sin of 
ages, of men by the sides of their puny accomplices pregnant with 
the miserable fruit with which the world will perish.. In the anxious 
silence of all the eyes supplicating the sun there, which sinks under 
the water with the desperation of a cry, this is the plain announcement : 
No sign-board now regales you with the spectacle that is inside, for 
there is no painter now capable of giving even a sad shadow of it. I 
bring living (and preserved by sovereign science through the years) a 
Woman of other days. Some kind of folly, naive and original, an 
ecstasy of gold, I know not what, by her called her hair, clings with 
the grace of some material round a face brightened by the blood-red 
nudity of her lips. In place of vain clothing, she has a body ; and 


her eyes, resembling precious stones ! arc not worth that look, which 
comes from her happy flesh : breasts raised as if full of eternal milk, 
the points towards the sky ; the smooth legs, that keep the salt of the 
first sea." Remembering their poor spouses, bald, morbid, and full of 
horrors, the husbands press forward : the women too, from curiosity, 
gloomily wish to see. 

When all shall have contemplated the noble creature, vestige of 
some epoch already damned, some indifferently, for they will not have 
had strength to understand, but others broken-hearted and with eye 
lids wet with tears of resignation, will look at each other ; while the 
poets of those times, feeling their dim eyes rekindled, will make their 
way towards their lamp, their brain for an instant drunk with con 
fused glory, haunted by Rhythm and forgetful that they exist at an 
epoch which has survived beauty. 


Xo. 1. 

Tlie following verses are by Viele-Griffin, from page 28 
of a volume of his Poems : 



Sait-tu 1 oubli 
D un vain doux rove, 
Oiseau moquenr 
De la foret? 
Le jour palit, 
La nuit se leve, 
Et dans mon cceur 
L ombre a pleure ; 



Ta folle garnme, 

Car j ai dormi 

Ce jour durant; 

Le lache emoi 

Ou fut mon ame 

Sanglote ennui 

Le jour mourant . . . 


Sais-tu le chant 
De sa parole 
Et de sa voix, 
Toi qui redis 
Dans le couchant 
Ton air frivole 
Comme autrefois 
Sous les midis ? 


O chante alors 
La melodie 
De son amour, 
Mon fol espoir, 
Parmi les ors 
Et 1 incendie 
Du vain doux jour 
Qui meurt ce soir. 

1 The translations in Appendices L, II., and IV., are by Louise 
Maude. The aim of these renderings has been to keep as close to the 
originals as the obscurity of meaning allowed. The sense (or absence 
of sense) has therefore been more considered than the form of the 




1. 3. 

Canst thou forget, That music sweet, 

In dreams so vain, Ah, do you know 

Oh, mocking bird Her voice and speech? 

Of forest deep ? Your airs so light 

The day doth set, You who repeat 

Night comes again, In sunset s glow, 

My heart has heard As you sang, each, 

The shadows weep ; At noonday s height. 

2. 4. 
Thy tones let flow Of my desire, 

In maddening scale, My hope so bold, 

For I have slept Her love up, sing, 

The livelong day ; Sing neath this light, 

Emotions low This flaming fire, 

In me now wail, And all the gold 

My soul they ve kept : The eve doth bring 

Light dies away . . . Ere comes the night. 

No. 2. 

And here are some verses by the esteemed young poet 
Verhaeren, which I also take from page 28 of his Works : 


Lointainement, et si etrangement pareils, 

De grands masques d argent que la brume recule, 

Vaguent, au jour tombant, autour des vieux soleils. 

Les doux lointaines ! et comme, au fond du cropuscule, 
Us nous lixent le creur, immensement le cceur, 
Avec les yeux dcfunts de leur visage d ame. 

C est toujours du silence, a nioins, dans la puleur 
Du soir, un jet de feu sondain, un cri de flamme, 
Un depart de lumiere inattendu vers Dieu. 


On se laisse charmer et trembler de mysterc, 
Et Ton dirait des morts qui taisent un adieu 
Trop mystique, pour etre ecoute par la terre ! 

Sont-ils le souvenir materiel et clair 

Des ephebes chretiens couches aux catacombes 

Parmi les lys? Sont-ils leur regard et leur chair? 

Ou seul, ce qui survit de merveilleux aux tombes 
De ceux qui sont partis, vers leurs reves, un soir, 
Conquerir la folie a 1 assaut des nuees ? 

Lointainement, combien nous les sentons vouloir 
Un peu d amour pour leurs ceuvres destitutes, 
Tour leur errance et leur tristesse aux horizons. 

Toujours ! aux horizons du cceur et des pensues, 
Alors que les vieux soirs eclatent en blasons 
Soudains, pour les gloires noires et angoissees. 



Large masks of silver, by mists drawn away, 

So strangely alike, yet so far apart, 

Float round the old suns when faileth the day. 

They transfix our heart, so immensely our heart, 
Those distances mild, in the twilight deep, 
Looking out of dead faces with their spirit eyes. 

All around is now silence, except when there leap 
In the pallor of evening, with fiery cries, 
Some fountains of flame that God-ward do fly. 

Mysterious trouble and charms us enfold. 

You might think that the dead spoke a silent good-bye, 

Oh ! too mystical far on earth to be told ! 

/ VHA T IS A R T? 221 

Are they the memories, material and bright, 
Of the Christian youths that in catacombs sleep 
Mid the lilies ? Are they their flesh or their sight ? 

Or the marvel alone that survives, in the deep, 
Of those that, one night, returned to their dream 
Of conquering folly by assaulting the skies ? 

For their destitute works we feel it seems, 

For a little love their longing cries 

From horizons far for their errings and pain. 

In horizons ever of heart and thought, 
While the evenings old in bright blaze wane 
Suddenly, for black glories anguish fraught. 

Xo. 3. 

And the following is a poem, by Moreas, evidently an 
admirer of Greek beauty. It is from page 28 of a volume 
of his Poems : 


Enone, j avais cru qu eii aimant ta beaute 

Ou Fame avec le corps trouvent leur unite, 

J allais, m affermissant et le coeur et 1 esprit, 

Monter jusqu a cela qui janiais lie perit, 

N ayant et cree, qui n est froideur ou feu, 

Qui n est beau quelque part et laid en autre lieu ; 

Et me flattais encor d une belle harmonic 

Que j eusse compose du meilleur et du pire, 

Ainsi que le chanteur qui cherit Polimnie, 

En accordant le grave avec 1 aigu, retire 

Un son bien eleve sur les nerfs de sa lyre. 

Mais mon courage, helas ! se pamant comme mort, 

M enseigna que le trait qui m avait fait amant 

JN"e fut pas de cet arc que courbe sans effort 

La Venus qui naquit du male seulement, 


Mais que j avals souffert cette Yunus derniere, 

Qui a le coeur couard, ne d une faible mere. 

Et pourtant, ce mauvais garon, chasseur habile, 

Qui charge son carquois de sagette subtile, 

Qui secoue en riant sa torche, pour un jour, 

Qui ne pose jamais que sur de tendres fleurs, 

C est sur un teint charmant qu il essuie les pleurs, 

Et c est encore un Dieu, Enone, cet Amour. 

Mais, laisse, les oiseaux du printemps sont partis, 

Et je vois les rayons du soleil amortis. 

Enone, ma douleur, harmonieux visage, 

Superbe humilite, doux honnete langage, 

Hier me remirant dans cet etang glace 

Qui an bout du jardin se couvre de feuillage, 

Sur ma face je vis que les jours ont passe. 



Enone, in loving thy beauty, I thought, 

"Where the soul and the body to union are brought, 

That mounting by steadying my heart and my mind, 

In that which can t perish, myself I should find. 

For it ne er was created, is not ugly and fair ; 

Is not coldness in one part, while on fire it is there. 

Yes, I flattered myself that a harmony fine 

I d succeed to compose of the worst and the best, 

Like the bard who adores Polyhymnia divine, 

And mingling sounds different from the nerves of his lyre.. 

From the grave and the smart draws melodies higher. 

But, alas ! my courage, so faint and nigh spent, 

The dart that has struck me proves without fail 

Not to be from that bow which is easily bent 

By the Venus that s born alone of the male. 

No, twas that other Yenus that caused me to smart, 

Born of frail mother with cowardly heart. 

And yet that naughty lad, that little hunter bold, 

Who laughs and shakes his flowery torch just for a day,, 

Who never rests but upon tender flowers and gay, 


On sweetest skin who dries the tears his eyes that fill, 

Yet oh, Enone mine, a God s that Cupid still. 

Let it pass ; for the birds of the Spring are away. 

And dying I see the sun s lingering ray. 

Enone, my sorrow, oh, harmonious face, 

Humility grand, words of virtue and grace, 

I looked yestere en in the pond frozen fast, 

Strewn with leaves at the end of the garden s fair space, 

And I read in my face that those days are now past. 

No. 4. 

And this is also from page 28 of a thick book, full of 
similar Poems, by M. Montesquieu. 


Des formes, des formes, des formes 
Blanche, bleue, et rose, et d or 
Descendront du haut des ormes 
Sur 1 enfant qui se rendort. 
Des formes ! 

Des plumes, des plumes, des plumes 
Pour composer un doux nid. 
Midi sonne : les enclumes 
Cessent; la rumeur finit . . . 
Des plumes ! 

Des roses, des roses, des roses 
Pour embaumer son sommeil, 
Vos petales sont moroses 
Pros du sourire vermeil. 
roses ! 

Des ailes, des ailes, des ailes 
Pour bourdonner a son front, 
Abeilles et demoiselles, 
Des rythmes qui berceront. 
Des ailes ! 


Des branches, des branches, des branches 
Pour tresser un pavilion, 
Par ou des elartes moms franches 
Descendront sur 1 oisillon. 
Des branches ! 

Des songes, des songes, des songcs 
Dans ses pensers entr ouverts 
Glissez un peu de mensonges 
A voir le vie au travers 
Des songes ! 

Des fees, des fees, des fees, 
Pour filer leurs echeveaux 
Des mirages, de bouffees 
Dans tous ces petits cerveaux. 
Des fees. 

Des anges, des aiiges, des anges 
Pour emporter dans Tether 
Les petits enfants etranges 
Qui ne veulent pas rester . . . 
Xos anges ! 

Les Hortensias Bleus. 


Oh forms, oil forms, oh forms 
White, blue, and gold, and red 
Descending from the elm trees, 
On sleeping baby s head. 
Oh forms ! 

Oh feathers, feathers, feathers 
To make a cosy nest. 
Twelve striking : stops the clamour ; 
The anvils are at rest . . . 
Oh feathers ! 


Oh roses, roses, roses 
To scent his sleep awhile, 
Pale are your fragrant petals 
Beside his ruby smile. 

Oh roses ! 

Oil wings, oh wings, oh wings 
01 bees and dragon-Hies, 
To hum around his forehead, 
And lull him with your sighs. 
Oh wings ! 

Branches, branches, branches 
A shady bower to twine, 
Through which, oh daylight, faintly 
Descend on birdie mine. 
Branches ! 

Oh dreams, oh dreams, oh dreams 
Into his opening mind, 
Let in a little falsehood 
With sights of life behind. 
Dreams ! 

Oh fairies, fairies, fairies, 
To twine and twist their threads 
With puffs of phantom visions 
Into these little heads. 
Fairies ! 

Angels, angels, angels 
To the ether far away, 
Those children strange to carry 
That here don t wish to stay . . . 
Our angels ! 


These are the contents of The Nilelunrfs Ring : 

The first part tells that the nymphs, the daughters of the 
Rhine, for some reason guard gold in the Rhine, and sing : 
Wcia, Waga, Woge du Welle, Walle zur Wiege, Wagala- 
weia, Wallala, Weiala, Wcia, and so forth. 

These singing nymphs are pursued by a gnome (a 
nibelung) who desires to seize them. The gnome cannot 
catch any of them. Then the nymphs guarding the gold 
tell the gnome just what they ought to keep secret, namely, 
that whoever renounces love will be able to steal the gold 
they are guarding. And the gnome renounces love, and 
steals the gold. This ends the first scene. 

In the second scene a god and a goddess lie in a field in 
sight of a castle which giants have built for them. Presently 
they wake up and are pleased with the castle, and they 
relate that in payment for this work they must give the 
goddess Freia to the giants. The giants come for their pay. 
But the god Wotan objects to parting with Freia. The 
giants get angry. The gods hear that the gnome has stolen 
the gold, promise to confiscate it and to pay the giants with 
it. But the giants won t trust them, and seize the goddess 
Freia in pledge. 

The third scene takes place under ground. The gnome 
Alberich, who stole the gold, for some reason beats a gnome, 
Mime, and takes from him a helmet which has the power 
both of making people invisible and of turning them into 
other animals. The gods, Wotan and others, appear and 



quarrel with one another and with the gnomes, and wish to 
take the gold, but Alberich won t give it up, and (like every 
body all through the piece) behaves in a way to ensure his 
own ruin. He puts on the helmet, and becomes first a 
dragon and then a toad. The gods catch the toad, 
take the helmet off it, and carry Alberich away with 

Scene IV. The gods bring Alberich to their home, and 
order him to command his gnomes to bring them all the 
gold. The gnomes bring it. Alberich gives up the gold, 
but keeps a magic ring. The gods take the ring. So 
Alberich curses the ring, and says it is to bring misfortune 
on anyone who has it. The giants appear ; they bring the 
goddess Freia, and demand her ransom. They stick up 
staves of Freia s height, and gold is poured in between these 
staves : this is to be the ransom. There is not enough gold, 
so the helmet is thrown in, and they also demand the ring. 
"\Votan refuses to give it up, but the goddess Erda appears 
and commands him to do so, because it brings misfortune. 
Wotan gives it up. Freia is released. The giants, having 
received the ring, fight, and one of them kills the other. 
This ends the Prelude, and we come to the First Day. 

The scene shows a house in a tree. Siegmund runs in 
tired, and lies down. Sieglinda, the mistress of the house 
(and wife of Hunding), gives him a drugged draught, and 
they fall in love with each other. Sieglinda s husband 
conies home, learns that Siegmund belongs to a hostile race, 
and wishes to fight him next day ; but Sieglinda drugs her 
husband, and comes to Siegmund. Siegmund discovers that 
Sieglinda is his sister, and that his father drove a sword into 
the tree so that no one can get it out. Siegmund pulls the 
sword out, and commits incest with his sister. 

Act II. Siegmund is to fight with Hunding. The gods 
discuss the question to whom they shall award the victory. 
Wotan, approving of Siegmund s incest with his sister, 


wishes to spare him, but, under pressure from his wife, 
Fricka, he orders the Valkyrie Briinnhilda to kill Siegmund. 
Siegmund goes to fight ; Sieglinda faints. Briinnhilda ap 
pears and wishes to slay Siegmund. Siegmund wishes to 
kill Sieglinda also, but Briinnhilda does not allow it ; so he 
fights with Hunding. Briinnhilda defends Siegmund, but 
Wotan defends Hunding. Siegmund s sword breaks, and 
lie is killed. Sieglinda runs away. 

Act III. The Valkyries (divine Amazons) are on the 
stage. The Valkyrie Briinnhilda arrives on horseback, 
bringing Siegmund s body. She is flying from Wotan, 
who is chasing her for her disobedience. Wotan catches 
her, and as a punishment dismisses her from her post 
as a Valkyrie. He casts a spell on her, so that she has 
to go to sleep and to continue asleep until a man wakes 
her. When someone wakes her she will fall in love with 
him. Wotan kisses her ; she falls asleep. He lets off fire, 
which surrounds her. 

We now come to the Second Day. The gnome Mime 
forges a sword in a wood. Siegfried appears. He is a son 
born from the incest of brother with sister (Siegmund with 
Sieglinda), and has been brought up in this wood by the 
gnome. In general the motives of the actions of everybody 
in this production are quite unintelligible. Siegfried learns 
his own origin, and that the broken sword was his father s. 
He orders Mime to reforge it, and then goes off. Wotan 
comes in the guise of a wanderer, and relates what will 
happen : that he who has not learnt to fear will forge the 
sword, and will defeat everybody. The gnome conjectures 
that this is Siegfried, and wants to poison him. Siegfried 
returns, forges his father s sword, and runs off, shout 
ing, Heiho ! heiho ! heiho ! Ho ! ho ! Aha ! oho ! aha ! 
Heiaho ! heiaho ! heiaho ! Ho ! ho ! Hahei ! hoho ! 
hahei ! 

And we get to Act II. Alberich sits guarding a giant, 

/ VHA T IS ART? 229 

who, in form of a dragon, guards the gold he has received. 
Wotan appears, and for some unknown reason foretells that 
Siegfried will come and kill the dragon. Alberich wakes 
the dragon, and asks him for the ring, promising to defend 
him from Siegfried. The dragon won t give up the ring. 
Exit Alberich. Mime and Siegfried appear. Mime hopes 
the dragon will teach Siegfried to fear. But Siegfried 
does not fear. He drives Mime away and kills the dragon, 
after which he puts his finger, smeared with the dragon s 
blood, to his lips. This enables him to know men s secret 
thoughts, as well as the language of birds. The birds tell 
him where the treasure and the ring are, and also that Mime 
wishes to poison him. Mime returns, and says out loud 
that he wishes to poison Siegfried. This is meant to signify 
that Siegfried, having tasted dragon s blood, understands 
people s secret thoughts. Siegfried, having learnt Mime s 
intentions, kills him. The birds tell Siegfried where Briinn- 
hilda is, and he goes to find her. 

Act III. Wotan calls up Erda. Erda prophesies ta 
Wotan, and gives him advice. Siegfried appears, quarrels 
with Wotan, and they fight. Suddenly Siegfried s sword 
breaks Wotan s spear, which had been more powerful than 
anything else. Siegfried goes into the fire to Briinnhilda ;. 
kisses her ; she wakes up, abandons her divinity, and throws 
herself into Siegfried s arms. 

Third Day. Prelude. Three Xorns plait a golden rope, 
and talk about the future. They go away. Siegfried and 
Briinnhilda appear. Siegfried takes leave of her, gives her 
the ring, and goes away. 

Act I. By the Ehine. A king wants to get married, and 
also to give his sister in marriage. Hagen, the king s 
wicked brother, advises him to marry Briinnhilda, and to 
give his sister to Siegfried. Siegfried appears ; they give 
him a drugged draught, which makes him forget all the past 
and fall in love with the king s sister, Gutrune. So ho rides- 


off with Gunther, the king, to get Briinnhilda to be the 
king s bride. The scene changes. Briinnhilda sits with the 
ring, A Valkyrie comes to her and tells her that Wotan s 
spear is broken, and advises her to give the ring to the 
Rhine nymphs. Siegfried comes, and by means of the magic 
helmet turns himself into Gunther, demands the ring from 
Briinnhilda, seizes it, and drags her off to sleep with 

Act II. By the Eh inc. Alberich and llagen discuss how 
to get the ring. Siegfried comes, tells how he has obtained 
a bride for Gunther and spent the night with her, but 
put a sword between himself and her. Briinnhilda rides 
up, recognises the ring on Siegfried s hand, and declares 
that it was he, and not Gunther, who was with her. Hagen 
stirs everybody up against Siegfried, and decides to kill him 
n-ext day when hunting. 

Act III. Again the nymphs in the Rhine relate what has 
happened. Siegfried, who has lost his way, appears. The 
nymphs ask him for the ring, but he won t give it up. Hunters 
appear. Siegfried tells the story of his life. Hagen then 
gives him a draught, which causes his memory to return to 
him. Siegfried relates how he aroused and obtained Briinn 
hilda, and everyone is astonished. Hagen stabs him in the 
back, and the scene is changed. Gutrune meets the corpse 
of Siegfried. Gunther and Hagen quarrel about the ring, and 
Hagen kills Gunther. Briinnhilda cries. Hagen wishes to 
take the ring from Siegfried s hand, but the hand of the corpse 
raises itself threateningly. Briinnhilda takes the ring from 
Siegfried s hand, and when Siegfried s corpse is carried to 
the pyre she gets on to a horse and leaps into the fire. The 
Rhine rises, and the waves reach the pyre. In the river are 
three nymphs. Hagen throws himself into the fire to get 
the ring, but the nymphs seize him and carry him off. One 
of them holds the ring; and that is the end of the 


The impression obtainable from my recapitulation is, of 
course, incomplete. But however incomplete it may be, it 
is certainly infinitely more favourable than the impression 
which results from reading the four booklets in which the 
work is printed. 


Translations of French poems and prose quoted in 
liapter X. 

No. XXIV. 

I adore tliec as much as the vaults of night, 

vase full of grief, taciturnity great, 

And I love thee the more because of thy flight. 
It seemeth, my night s beautifier, that you 
Still heap up those leagues yes ! ironically heap ! 
That divide from my arms the immensity blue. 

1 advance to attack, I climb to assault, 

Like a choir of young worms at a corpse in the vault ; 

Thy coldness, oh cruel, implacable beast ! 

Yet heightens thy beauty, on which my eyes feast ! 


D U EL L U M. 

Two warriors come running, to fight they begin, 
With gleaming and blood they bespatter the air ; 
These games, and this clatter of arms, is the din 
Of youth that s a prey to the surgings of love. 

The rapiers are broken ! and so is our youth, 
But the dagger s avenged, dear ! and so is the sword, 
By the nail that is steeled and the hardened tooth. 
Oh, the fury of hearts aged and ulcered by love ! 

In the ditch, where the ounce and the pard have their lair, 
Our heroes have rolled in an angry embrace ; 

Their skin blooms on brambles that erewhile were bare. 


That ravine is a friend -inhabited hell ! 
Then let us roll in, oh woman inhuman, 
To immortalise hatred that nothing can quell ! 



Whom dost thou love best ? say, enigmatical man thy father, 
thy mother, thy brother, or thy sister ? 

" I have neither father, nor mother, nor sister, nor brother." 

Thy friends ? 

" You there use an expression the meaning of which till now remains 
unknown to me. " 

Thy country ? 

" I ignore in what latitude it is situated." 

Beauty ? 

"I would gladly love her, goddess and immortal." 


" I hate it as you hate God." 

Then what do you love, extraordinary stranger ? 

"I love the clouds . . . the clouds that pass . . . there . . . the 
marvellous clouds ! " 



My beloved little silly was giving me my dinner, and I was con 
templating, through the open window of the dining-room, those moving 
architectures which God makes out of vapours, the marvellous con 
structions of the impalpable. And I said to myself, amid my 
contemplations, " All these phantasmagoria are almost as beautiful as 
the eyes of my beautiful beloved, the monstrous little silly with the 
green eyes." 

Suddenly I felt the violent blow of a fist on my back, and I heard 
a harsh, charming voice, an hysterical voice, as it were hoarse with 
brandy, the voice of my dear little well-beloved, saying, " Are you 
going to eat your soup soon, you d b of a dealer in clouds ? " 



As the carriage was passing through the forest, he ordered it to be 
stopped near a shooting-gallery, saying that he wished to shoot off a 
few bullets to kill Time. To kill this monster, is it not the most 
ordinary and the most legitimate occupation of everyone ? And he 
gallantly offered his arm to his dear, delicious, and execrable wife 
that mysterious woman to whom he owed so much pleasure, so much 
pain, and perhaps also a large part of his genius. 

Several bullets struck far from the intended mark one even 
penetrated the ceiling ; and as the charming creature laughed madly, 
mocking her husband s awkwardness, he turned abruptly towards 
her and said, Look at that doll there on the right with the haughty 
mien and her nose in the air ; well, dear angel, / imagine to myself 
that it is you ! " And he closed his eyes and pulled the trigger. The 
doll was neatly decapitated. 

Then, bowing towards his dear one, his delightful, execrable wife, 
his inevitable, pitiless muse, and kissing her hand respectfully, he 
added, " Ah ! my dear angel, how I thank you for my skill ! " 

No. I. 

" The wind in the plain 
Suspends its breath." FAVAR.T. 

Tis ecstasy languishing, 
Amorous fatigue, 
Of woods all the shudderings 
Embraced by the breeze, 
Tis the choir of small voices 
Towards the grey trees. 

Oh the frail and fresh murmuring 1 

The twitter and buzz, 

The soft cry resembling 

That s expired by the grass . . . 

Oh, the roll of the pebbles 

Neath waters that pass 1 


Oh, this soul that is groaning 
In sleepy complaint ! 
In us is it moaning? 
In me and in you ? 
Low anthem exhaling 
While soft falls the dew. 

No. VIII. 

In the unending 
Dulness of this land, 
Uncertain the snow 
Is gleaming like sand. 

No kind of brightness 
In copper-hued sky, 
The moon you might see 
Now live and now die. 

Grey float the oak trees 
Cloudlike they seem 
Of neighbouring forests, 
The mists in between. 

Wolves hungry and lean, 
And famishing crow, 
What happens to you 
When acid winds blow ? 

In the unending 
Dulness of this land, 
Uncertain the snow 
Is gleaming like sand. 


When he went away, 
(Then I heard the door) 
When he went away, 
On her lips a smile there lay 


Back he came to her, 
(Then I heard the lamp) 
Back he came to her, 
Someone else was there . , . 

It was death I met, 

(And I heard her soul) 

It was death I met, 

For her he s waiting yet . . . 

Someone came to say, 
(Child, I am afraid) 
Someone came to say 
That he would go away . . . 

With my lamp alight, 
(Child, I am afraid) 
"With my lamp alight, 
Approached I in affright . . 

To one door I came, 
(Child, I am afraid) 
To one door I came, 
A shudder shook the flame . . . 

At the second door, 
(Child, I am afraid) 
At the second door 
Forth words the flame did pour . 

To the third I came, 

(Child, I am afraid) 

To the third I came, 

Then died the little flame . . . 

Should he one day return 
Then what shall we say ? 
"Waiting, tell him, one 

And dying for him lay . . . 

If he asks for you, 
Say what answer then ? 
Give him my gold ring 

And answer not a thing . . . 


Should he question me 
Concerning the last hour ? 
Say I smiled for fear 

That he should shed a tear . . 

Should he question more 
Without knowing me ? 
Like a sister speak ; 

Suffering he may be ... 

Should he question why 
Empty is the hall ? 
Show the gaping door, 

The lamp alight no more . . ,